Each month, Our State senior editor — and resident soundtrack maker — Mark Kemp, a former music editor of Rolling Stone, curates a one-of-a-kind Spotify playlist featuring North Carolina songs
Each month, Our State senior editor — and resident soundtrack maker — Mark Kemp, a former music editor of Rolling Stone, curates a one-of-a-kind Spotify playlist featuring North Carolina songs and musicians.
Gospel music is one of America’s greatest, most unique, and most enduring art forms, and it is a bedrock of North Carolina music. We hear its influence in the popular songs of our most prominent artists, but pure gospel music rarely makes the pop charts — even though it exists everywhere, wailing out of tiny churches scattered from the tobacco fields of eastern North Carolina to the hollers of the Appalachians. The art of singing praise to our personal ideas of a higher power leaps across generations, races, and classes to go straight to the deepest part of the human soul.
In this month’s playlist, you’ll hear 20 great North Carolina gospel songs, many of them by purely gospel artists like Charlotte’s legendary Johnson Family Singers (“Ole Time Religion”) and the Durham-born First Lady of Gospel Music, Shirley Caesar (“I Want Jesus to Talk with Me”). You’ll hear the sweet, four-part vocal harmonies of The Kingsmen Quartet of Asheville (“I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary”) and the a cappella shouting of Pitt County’s Glorifying Vines Sisters (“Tell It All to Jesus”). But you’ll also hear gospel songs by typically secular artists like Nina Simone (“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”), bluesman Blind Boy Fuller (“Precious Lord”), folksinger Doc Watson (“Amazing Grace”), and Southern rocker Charlie Daniels (“I’ll Fly Away”).
At their purest, the Christian values that our state and nation were founded on have the power to cut through the noise of division in our communities, whether racial, political, or even theological. And those values are perhaps expressed most transcendently through the rousing, roof-raising, harmony-laden sounds of North Carolina gospel music.