People have sung songs of praise since time immemorial in a sacred union of music and religion that is among the oldest human traditions. In the last 100 years, gospel has been one of the most popular forms of music inspired by spiritual beliefs. Evolving from Anglican hymns and 19th-century Black spirituals, it flourished in the 20th century, and its emotionally powerful approach went on to have an enormous impact on several secular music styles, influencing soul, jazz, blues and rock music. Though not often deemed a mainstream music, gospel has conquered pop charts around the world – and, as this run-down of the best gospel songs reveals, some songs with gospel messages snuck into the charts undetected.
Here, then, are the 50 best gospel songs of all time. Anticipate exhilarating testimonials of faith, soothing balms to heal weary souls, and life-affirming revelations that invoke the holy spirit.
Best Gospel Songs: 50 Life-Affirming Expressions Of Faith
50: Wholy Holy
In 1967, Aretha Franklin took Otis Redding’s Respect and transformed the song into a female empowerment anthem that was more famous than the original recording. Five years later, she brought her incredible transformative powers to bear on another song by one of the best soul singers ever to have lived, this time Marvin Gaye’s Wholy Holy, plucked from the Detroit auteur’s groundbreaking 1971 concept album, What’s Going On. Gaye’s original, an ethereal ballad whose Biblical message preaches the power of love and unity, was reworked by Franklin (who was the first artist to cover the song) on her acclaimed 1972 gospel album, Amazing Grace, recorded live at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, in Los Angeles. Franklin’s inspired version is bolder, more dramatic and altogether grander than Redding’s, thanks in part to the “Queen Of Soul”’s thrilling call-and-response vocal interplay with the sanctified cadences of the Southern California Community Choir, under the direction of James Cleveland.