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What Makes Black Gospel Musicians So Skilled? (feat. Donald Lawrence and Tye Tribbett)

December 9, 2019


♪ Praise the Lord ♪ (drums banging) ♪ There ain’t no need ♪ ♪ Oh, ah ♪ – [Narrator] Aretha
Franklin, Beyonce, D’Angelo, John Legend, Anderson Paak. What do they all have in common? Like countless other black musicians, they’ve all gained their
foundation and love for music through the black church and
the music it birthed, gospel. ♪ Guide my feet Lord ♪ ♪ Prayers when I’m hungry ♪ ♪ I’ve never eaten ♪ It’s Sunday and I’m going to church. I’m in Orlando, Florida at Live Church, where Grammy winning artist
and gospel music star Tye Tribbett leads the congregation. (gospel music) – Mainstream, secular, gospel, everybody seems to come
through the church to like hone their gifts, you
know ’cause that’s a place where a lot of people are accepted. You can make mistakes and not, cause you’re not on TV reading charts. You’re just like trying to figure it out. ♪ Has more power than you ♪ ♪ Nobody ♪ ♪ Nobody ♪ ♪ Nobody ♪ ♪ Nobody ♪ So many musicians that I know literally came through GA and Soundcheck actually that we see now. ♪ Nobody ♪ ♪ Said nobody ♪ ♪ Nobody ♪ ♪ Nobody ♪ ♪ Nobody ♪ ♪ Raise your book and say ♪ Music in the church is unconventional and like I said, it’s not charted. You can kind of like
try things and be like, weird, but it’s okay
– It worked, I liked it. – [Tye] Put the bass there, okay. In the church, you can make those mistakes that turn out to be
genius in another field. (screaming) ♪ Who’s greater than God ♪ ♪ Nobody ♪ ♪ Who’s greater than God ♪ ♪ Nobody ♪ ♪ Who’s greater than Jesus ♪ ♪ Nobody ♪ ♪ Who’s greater than Jesus ♪ ♪ Nobody ♪ ♪Nobody greater ♪ (airplane engine) – [Woman] LA and I are in Chicago where the work of gospel pioneers like Thomas Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson gave rise to what we know as gospel music. But the city doesn’t only
hold gospel music’s past. Chicago gospel musicians
are constantly pushing this great art form and
their skills forward. – Definitely Chicago
is the home for gospel. Hands down. – Okay, so we in the right spot. – [Donald] Yeah. – [Narrator] So talk
about the black church being a training ground for musicians. – It’s a training ground
but also too, everyone is so on top of their skill, when not really knowing the raw skill is so great that it’s like
singing at the Apollo. (screaming) ♪ What’s his name ♪ ♪ Jesus ♪ ♪ What’s his name ♪ ♪ Jesus ♪ ♪ What’s his name ♪ ♪ Jesus ♪ – You have to be good, like,
you don’t have a choice. Or else, you just don’t
get up there, you know. So that’s why some of the great singers like an Aretha or like Whitney or like so many came out of church because we hear it all the time. And it’s others that you haven’t heard that probably equally as good that you will never hear.
– [Narrator] True. ♪ Jesus ♪ ♪ In the name of Jesus ♪ ♪ Jesus ♪ ♪ In the name of Jesus ♪ – I think the musicians of this time, are so skilled. Like they’re incredibly skilled. Their ears are not the
same but their ability is like out of here. It really is out of here, really is out. I always tell ’em ya’ll
make it too complicated. – Yeah yeah. – I always say you’re overthinking, it’s not that complicated, (laughing) it’s really just, you know, two, three, six, five, then back to one. But you’re trying to make it like a thirteenth
– Like explosions (laughs) – and then trying to expand it too much. Like it’s not that complicated. (piano music)
(humming) Right there let me show you what they would do in church now. The melody is, ♪ All that is within me ♪ Instead of going to (piano music) Yeah instead of going to that 6th. Right. – Yeah. (humming) Exactly. Then you go to the next chord, the chord is there. – That’s the sweet spot. ♪ Is is ♪ – So who created black
gospel music? (piano music) Many historians will tell you it was Thomas A. Dorsey. He’s now regarded as the
father of black gospel music. But Dorsey’s career didn’t
start out in the church. Born in Georgia, Dorsey
began as a blues musician and went by the name Georgia Tom. He toured alongside blues legend Ma Rainey, and wrote hundreds of blues and jazz songs. Some were a little risque, like the hit he wrote
with guitarist Tampa Red, “It’s Tight Like That” from 1928. ♪ It’s tight like that ♪ ♪ Beedle-um-Bum ♪ ♪ It’s tight like that ♪ – In the 1920s Dorsey had an epiphany. He began to turn away from secular music and started
writing gospel songs. But he didn’t leave his past behind. He often infused his gospel music with the feel and structure of the blues. His gospel song, “If You See My Savior” is swung and upbeat. It follows a 16-bar
blues chord progression. It has a steady 4/4 time signature that you can easily stomp your feet to. His lyrics, however, are
more hopeful and uplifting than most blues songs. Dorsey is offering a touching send-off to someone who is about to depart to the other side. ♪ Oh, tell them I am ♪ ♪ Coming home someday ♪ – In 1932, Dorsey came here
to Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago where he served as Music Director for more than 40 years. In 2006, this historic church
building was gutted by fire, and the whole congregation
moved across the street. (organ music) ♪ Through the storm ♪ ♪ Through the rain ♪ ♪ People walkin’ in with Jesus’ name ♪ ♪ Though darkness overflowing ♪ ♪ My Lord is nigh ♪ – That’s one of the things that made Professor Dorsey famous, was that he combined the
blues and church music and gave it that rhythm and swing that a lot of people weren’t ready for. – Dorsey also employs call and response in many of his songs. An element in African music where one phrase is the call, and a different phrase is the answer. Like in his song, “Never Turn Back.” ♪ A long ♪ ♪ Yes Lord ♪ ♪ Time ago ♪ ♪ Yes Lord ♪ – Call and response is
historical from slavery times because blacks could
not read at that time. And there was always one
person around who could. And they would read it, and everyone else would
repeat it behind them. – In the morning, when I rise. Or I’m gonna lay down my burdens. – Down by the riverside.
– You know what I’m sayin’? Call and response is
integral to gospel music. It can be found in secular music as well. From artists like James
Brown to Kendrick Lamar. ♪ Sit down ♪ ♪ Drank ♪ ♪ Stand up ♪ ♪ Drank ♪ ♪ Pass out ♪ ♪ Drank ♪ – Also in 1932, Dorsey lost his wife and
son during childbirth. This tragedy led him to
write what is considered one of the greatest
gospel songs ever written, “Take My Hand Precious Lord” ♪ Precious Lord ♪ Unlike “If You Meet My Savior”, “Precious Lord” maintains the emotion of the blues without
adhering to its structure. Check out Dorsey himself
performing the song in the 1998 documentary,
“The Story of Gospel Music.” ♪ When I look back ♪ – Just to see him, we stood in awe of him. You know, that was history. – [Woman] However, Dorsey
was not always celebrated. – Professor Dorsey came, actually from Ebenezer Baptist
Church where he started. But they did not allow him to do his music the way he wanted to do it. So he left there. And came to Pilgrim. – He faced opposition for blending blues and gospel with some ministers calling it the devil’s music. – A lot of the old time church folks were saying that he was
playing the devil’s music. That it wasn’t of God. – Well I mean, you can
liken it until today. When we’re doing hip hop. And so, you know, a lot of old people say, “That’s the old devil’s music.” No. It’s just a new style that’s come to us to give the Lord praise. (organ music) (clapping) – Let’s stand for prayer. (laughing) – God we thank you. – Okay we’re ready to finish, amen. – As far as the blending of genres, some people feel like it waters down the gospel message. – Message is words and sound is sound. So I don’t understand how you can take a message down with sound. I think more so religion does that versus spirituality or even God, because when God made music, he didn’t say, “This bass part is secular “and this bass part is gospel.” We did that. – Blending gospel and secular
sounds hasn’t stopped. Pioneers like Andrae
Crouch and Kirk Franklin have been mixing gospel with everything from funk to rock to hip hop. ♪ My brother can’t you see ♪ ♪ I’ve got the victory ♪ ♪ Stomp ♪ It’s this cross-pollination of genres that makes gospel music so adaptable to the times, and why gospel musicians are so versatile. We play it all. ♪ Everybody let’s go ♪ ♪ Rejoice ♪ ♪ Rejoice to the Lord always ♪ Can you speak on how your church has embraced
this new wave of music? The shared exchange between gospel music and secular music. It’s an exchange of influence. – Mm-hmm. ♪ Lift your praise rejoice ♪ – It’s like how my music is outside of the church. I think it’s a little bit for everybody. I think the biggest problem I had, even at Sony Records, was what category do we put this guy in. Is this hip hop gospel, is this… So we just coined this
phrase Kingdom Music. ♪ Again I say rejoice ♪ We didn’t want to alienate anybody. And we didn’t want to
become elitist either. It’s very very broad. You can get old-school tambourine, chicken-eating feel.
– [Narrator] Church. – Yeah, Hillsong Worship feel
when you just honor the Lord, you know what I’m saying? Or we can get straight street. We embrace all forms of music, so we can reach all forms of people with one message. – [Narrator] Indeed. – I came from the shed, jam session thing. I just had like sheds, just jam sessions at the house all the time. And from those pieces of grooves that we locked into, I wrote songs, like no way
came from a shed groove. – [Narrator] Okay. (Tye beatboxing) (laughing) – Come on man. – He’s ready. – [Narrator] The term “woodshedding” gained popularity among
jazz musicians in the 1930s. It means to go some place, like behind the wood shed, to practice your skills
where no one else can hear. (jazz music) But in the early 2000s, shedding became something new thanks to Gerald Forrest, the creator of a website
called Gospel Chops. Originally, the website
was going to focus on church organists and pianists, before it shifted its focus to drummers after he uploaded a video of Eric Moore breaking down, what was arguably, the first ever documented gospel chop. (Eric Moore drumming) In the mid-2000s, gospel
chops became a phenomenon. Tony and Thomas’ shed is arguably one of the most memorable
sheds of all time. Here, one can see those integral parts of gospel music. Tony and Thomas are responding to each other’s rhythmic calls and are doing so on the spot. (drum music) – So a question for
both of you, basically. I’ve never been to a shed session. I’m not really sure, I’ve since learned about it, but I don’t know what to expect. What can I (laughs) – [Narrator] Oh, it’ll be a
vibe though. It’ll be a vibe. So it’s like, I’ll have the
quick tracks running in the app, and I’ll blast it through the monitors – [Donald] Wow. – so everybody can hear
it, and keep up with it. – [Donald] That’s cool. – [Narrator] Yeah. – [Woman Narrator] And that’s happening at seven tonight, eight? – [Narrator] We’ll get there at 8. – [Woman Narrator] How
many people are coming? – [Narrator] I’m hoping,
I’m trying to make it to the party. – [Woman Narrator] Oh. (drums music) – [Narrator] For gospel
drummers like myself, nothing sharpens skills
more than shedding. (narrator drumming) This is how shedding works. There are two simple rules. One, you establish a groove, and two, trade solos
while keeping the one, or the downbeat. Locking in the groove is an important step in shedding because it gives context to all of the chops, licks, and feels. The groove is the template that we all work within, and it allows the trading
of solos to make sense. (drum music) Depending on the tempo of the groove, drummers will solo for
either four or eight bars. Four bars for slower tempos, eight bars for faster tempos. (drums beating) (piano music) What started as musicians
jamming after church services, turned into a safe haven
for young black musicians. (drums beating) This adaptability continues to push gospel music into
new musical territory. (drums beating) (piano music) And in churches all across the country, the next generation of musicians are shedding their skills. (drums beating) Just look at Justin Wilson II, better know as the drumming prodigy, @babyboydrummer on Instagram. (drumming) (people cheering) Here, he plays alongside
notable gospel musicians Robert Bubby Lewis and Justin Raines at the 2019 NAMM Convention. The young drummer holds his own alongside the other musicians in what is essentially a shed session. (drumming) The exchange is a testament to the black gospel church as a training ground for artists and musicians. (drumming) What gospel music is and sounds like continues to change. But there’s no denying, that the black gospel church provides a foundation for future musicians who will one day, share their gifts with the world. ♪ Greater, greater, greater, greater ♪ ♪ Greater, greater, greater ♪ ♪ Greater, greater ♪ ♪ Greater than anything ♪ – But the gospel music industry, I just, I mean, it’s so open it can be anything now. I like that it’s not just choir robes now. It’s so vast because everybody’s not just exposed to their lane. Everybody’s exposed to everything. ♪ Greater than anything ♪ – So there must be a culture
of working extremely hard to get to that level surrounding
this community, right? – I don’t even know if
it’s work to get there. I think that because that’s all you hear, it just shows up. – It’s the, yeah, you’re around those church services every day of the week. – Yeah, like if you hear somebody speaking another language
throughout your life, then you speak it. ♪ You’re greater than anything ♪ ♪ We look up to you ♪ ♪
Where our help comes from ♪ ♪ You’re greater ♪ ♪ Greater than anything ♪ – [Donald] It’s just a
part of the community so you just do it, you know? You just learn how to dance
because everybody’s dancing. – [Woman Narrator] It’s the norm. – [Donald] It’s the norm. It’s very much a norm. ♪ One more time say ♪ ♪ One more time say ♪ ♪ He’s greater ♪ ♪ Greater than anything ♪ – Hey, give God glory in here. (congregation clapping)

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