Higher Ground: Voices of Contemporary Gospel Music. Higher Ground: Voices of Contemporary Gospel Music

Edwin Hawkins, Andrae Crouch, Karen Clark-Sheard, Dorinda Clark-Cole
of the Clark Sisters are only part of the wide spectrum of artists presented in Higher Ground. Youth-centric artists such as Tonéx, Mary Mary, T-Bone, and Gospel Gangstaz are also featured extensively. Totally comprised of interview footage collected in various cities around the United States, the documentary does not include any narration and only presents the personal accounts and testimonies of notable artists, producers, gospel radio personalities, ministers, record executives, and gospel
more » ... p-hop advocates. The directors of Higher Ground, Marci Kenon and Damon Stout, come from segments of the urban music, gospel music, and film industries and were able to bring together over fifty gospel music insiders to participate in the making of this documentary. The DVD edition of Higher Ground is divided into nineteen chapters and begins in the first chapter by exploring the power of music in culture as well as the stigma attached to much of Black music produced today. In briefly discussing the negative images and messages prevalent in Black secular music over the last few decades and the impact it is having on the young people of society, several gospel artists suggest that there must be an alternative and that gospel music is the alternative. By distinguishing what gospel music has become in the twenty-first century, artists featured in Higher Ground implicitly provide several characteristics of what contemporary gospel music is in general. In addition to contemporary gospel giants Franklin, McClurkin and Adams, the opinions of gospel music icons Albertina Walker and Dr. Bobby Jones are also included. While Higher Ground's overall theme is to show the growth of the contemporary gospel style and the gospel music industry since the release of Edwin Hawkins's "Oh, Happy Day" in 1968, it equally exposes the obstacles and opposition contemporary gospel artists have had to face from church communities as well as gospel music traditionalists. This documentary places Hawkins' pioneering success in the context of a continuum in which gospel music and its ambassadors have always faced challenges from the Christian community when deviating too far from what is considered "traditional" at the time. The documentary not only covers over thirty years of contemporary gospel music, it includes references to gospel music founders and cross-over pioneers such as Thomas Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson, who were often thrown out of churches for adding blues elements to hymns. After exploring gospel music's controversial beginnings in the second and third chapters, Higher Ground devotes five chapter segments to several historical guideposts of contemporary gospel music. After the secular cross-over success of Edwin Hawkin's "Oh Happy Day" in 1968 is recounted, the emergence of the Clark Sisters a decade later and their history making song, "You Brought the Sunshine" is discussed by Karen Clark-Sheard and Dorinda Clark-Cole as well as artists who were influenced by the 'Clark Sisters Sound' such as Fred Hammond, Tonéx and Mary Mary. Other pivotal moments in contemporary gospel include the discovery of the Winans by Andrae Crouch and the widespread success of their music in dance clubs and on secular radio in the 1980s and 1990s. In both accounts of the Clark's and Winans's successes in secular realms, the backlash from their respective church communities and denominational organizations were candidly discussed. The biggest moment in recent contemporary gospel history was the release of the remix to the song "Stomp" by gospel's first platinum selling artist, Kirk Franklin. Representing one of the biggest successes as well as the biggest controversies in gospel music, the story behind "Stomp" is told by a variety of gospel music industry heavy weights including record executive of GospoCentric Vicki Mack-Lataillade, magazine publisher Teresa Hairston, producer Percy Bady and a host of other artists. Edwin Hawkins also makes very interesting parallels between himself and Franklin that gospel enthusiast would find helpful in drawing connections across generations within the gospel music world. Then the documentary goes back to point out another controversial moment in contemporary gospel that often is over looked: the release of Tramaine Hawkins's album Fall Down in 1985. The popularity of Fall Down in dance clubs and Hawkins's attire on the album cover was met with a level of controversy that was only surpassed by the release of "Stomp" over ten years later in 1997. Chapters ten through twelve highlight breakthroughs and the increase in opportunities for gospel music artists since the late 1990s. The story behind the creation and success of "Shackles" by sister duo Mary Mary, for example, is Ethnomusicology Review | ISSN 2164-4578 |