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Mahalia Jackson

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There are milestone moments that define the growth and development of any industry. Listed below are those game changing moments — and people — that have helped to shape the evolution of today’s gospel industry, fueling its popularity and success.

Thomas Dorsey

Dubbed “the Father of Gospel”, Dorsey was the chief architect and force in gospel music’s early development, penning hundreds of song, including such standards as “Precious Lord”, and traveling across country to organize choirs and promote the sale of gospel sheet music; while establishing the first gospel publishing company and co founding the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses.

Sallie Martin

While gospel was traditionally a male-dominated industry, one of its very first concerts was billed as a vocal “battle” between two women—Roberta Martin and Sallie Martin. Sallie Martin, dubbed as “the Mother of Gospel” would go on to co-found Martin & Morris, the publishing house that helped to popularize gospel during its earliest days and the genre’s first official female gospel group, the Sallie Martin Singers. The group’s initial members included jazz & blues great, Dinah Washington.

Mahalia Jackson

With the release, in 1947, of “Move On Up A Little Higher,” Mahalia Jackson— widely proclaimed as the nation’s greatest gospel singer—became the first gospel artist to sell one million copies forging gospel’s popularity into the mainstream.

Clara Ward & The Ward Singers

The credit for the first gold single by a gospel group at the height of gospel’s golden age went to this group for their 1949 recording of “Our God Is Able,” but in 1962 Ward and her singers—which at one time included opera great, Marion Williams— would break another barrier when they became the first gospel act booked into Las Vegas.

The Caravans

With a revolving roster of members that included gospel greats, Albertina Walker, Inez Andrews, Dorothy Norwood, James Cleveland and Shirley Caesar who was gospel’s first singing evangelist and would later come to be known as the “the Queen of Gospel”, the Caravans served as a launching pad for some of gospel’s greatest.

James Cleveland

While his greatest legacy is the Gospel Music Workshop of America established in March of 1967, Cleveland was dubbed “the King of Gospel” for his formidability as gospel musician and singer, with three Grammys to show for it. Incorporating traditional black gospel, modern soul, pop, and jazz in arrangements for mass choirs, he was also a driving force in the creation of the modern gospel sound.

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Top 25 Game Changers In Gospel History  was originally published on