There’s always been a connection between Gospel and R&B music. Gospel is the mother who goes to church every Sunday while R&B is her offspring who went to the club the night before. That’s because R&B/soul music was birthed from Gospel, which is a spiritual Christian music filled with emotion/soul to praise a deity. R&B/soul music kept that same emotion/soul, the only difference are the lyrics which reflects on human situations and emotions, or “secular” topics. Background vocals/singers popular in R&B music came from the gospel tradition of a choir, which are many voices harmonizing while a lead singer accented the choir’s main melody, often adlibbing or “vocal freestyling,” a sound also heard in R&B soul.
Most R&B/soul artists (if not all) were raised in the church and got their vocal stylings from gospel. Whitney Houston, Faith Evans, KeKe Wyatt, Fantasia, Ledisi, and many others are a few examples. The following is a list of just ten artists who have effectively straddled the line between the two closely-related genres.
She didn’t earn the title “Queen of Soul” for nothin! The daughter of notable minister C.L. Franklin, she began singing in her father’s church at 10 and began recording as a teenager. At 18, she decide to try R&B, racking up many hits such as “Never Loved A Man (The way I Love You),” “Respect,” and “Chain of Fools.”Â She then briefly switched back to release the gospel album “Amazing Grace” in 1972 which still holds the title as best-selling gospel album of all time. Ms. Franklin went on to efficiently release about 20 more albums, each blurring the lines of gospel and R&B/soul with her wide, soulful, emotional vocals.
Montell Jordan’s 1995 smash “This Is How We Do It” will go down in history as one of the best R&B party songs. It was everywhere in, and so were his songs he produced for others, such as Deborah Cox’s “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” and Sisqo’s “Incomplete.” He’s an artist who left R&B for Gospel with no plans on returning.Â Fast-forward to now, Jordan is a minister at Victory World Church in ATL, and he’s still making music in the form of contemporary Christian. In 2011, he released a single with Christian pop-singer Beckah Shae called “Shake Heaven.” Witness Jordan’s spiritual transition below.
The gritty, feel good music of Al Green is rooted in the church; his soulful adlibs are cray! With songs like “Love and Happiness,” “Simply Beautiful,” “For the Good Times,” and “Let’s Stay Together,” Green had the R&B/soul scene on lock in the early 70s. After being assaulted and severely burned by his deranged girlfriend of the time (who killed herself soon after), he looked at life differently, and turned a new leaf towards gospel music. Green became an ordained pastor and released upwards of seven gospel albums throughout the 1980s. He slowly inched back to R&B with the 1994 LP “Don’t Look Back.” Check out both sides of Mr. Green below.
Quincy Jones’ protÃ©gÃ© James Ingram started off his career as a singer, pianist, and songwriter (co-writer of Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T”) who made women everywhere swoon as he crooned about grown folk love (see “One Hundred Ways”). And who could forget sexy quiet storm jam “The Secret Garden” that had many 1980s male R&B singers all together on one song? But after four albums and years of singing about human love, Ingram released Mercy in 2008, an inspirational project focusing on love and faith in the man upstairs. Once again, an effortless transition.
You know that female voice on Zapp and Roger Troutman’s “Computer Love” and “Chocolate City”? That would be Ms. Shirley Murdock, her backing vocals with the Ohio-based funk band landed her a solo deal with Elektra that spawned one of her biggest hit “As We Lay.” The song spoke of the story of dual adultery, the epitome of worldly experiences. But in 2002 Murdock, released on T.D. Jakes’ record label Dexterity Sounds her debut gospel effort titled Home, which is filled with beautiful ballads of praise. She hasn’t left R&B, proving she embraces both genres. She appeared on Bigg Robb’s 2009 LP Jerri Curl Muzic=(The Latest) on the cut “Family Reunion Song.” Â
As one third of the R&B group SWV (Sisters With Voices), Coko sang about around the way topics such as liking another girls man (“So Into You”) and sexual escapades (“Downtown”). After the group disbanded, she released two solo R&B albums, then slid in to her Gospel debut with Grateful in 2006. She’s worked with Patti Labelle and Tremaine Hawkins. To see how Coko straddles the line between praise and R&B, check out her song “I Get Joy” below.
Vocal powerhouse of any genre Kelly Price’s gospel influence is easily recognized in her music. The spirit and soul in her amazing voice is a testament to her church upbringing. Writing for both R&B and gospel artists, Price then began her solo career with the 1998 LP Soul Of A Woman. Price can easily sing the gospel song “Healing” then slide into the worldly “Married Man” effortlessly; the emotion in each remains the same.
Gospel/R&B singer Shei Atkins is unique in that she was originally categorized as being Gospel, but unapologetically went R&B even when confronted with criticism from those in the Gospel/Christian community. Her music was always a mixture, confusing people of her creative direction, but she chose not categorize herself. Atkins revealed in an open letter explaining her decision to follow her heart towards gospel. “The messed up thing about the Christian community is that there is a religious and judgmental mentality inside of it that holds us back and keeps us from loving people when it comes to music,” she explains. “I can’t sing about life, love, and relationships under the Gospel title. It’s not because I don’t want to. It’s because of the mentality a lot of Christians have about music,” she continued.
While still in Destiny’s Child, Michelle Williams released a solo gospel album in 2002 at the height of DC3 popularity with Heart to Yours, working with Gospel heavyweights such as Shirley Caesar. Two years later she released an album Do You Know, which categorized as contemporary Christian/inspirational R&B, all while doing double duty as one third of one of the most successful mainstream R&B girl groups ever. Ms. Williams handles both worlds well!
Dave Hollister represents the voice of many men. He captures the essence of relationships from a man’s point of view. Songs like “Real Talk,” “My Favorite Girl,” and “One Woman Man” bring the real. His 2006 gospel release The Book of David: Vol. 1 The Transition, is not only a gospel effort, but the themes also hit upon life amid being a Christian. An example of this is in the song “I Let Heaven Down” in which Hollister struggles with the temptation to be physically intimate with his woman because they’re not yet married. That song is a prime example of how Hollister mixes gospel themes with real life circumstances.