Here’s the second part of my thoughts/ramblings on what southern gospel is and isn’t. (Part I here.) Except this part is really a cogitation on the difference between the label “CCM” and the label “SG.”
Contemporary Christian Music is such a vague umbrella term that it can encompass every sound and style of music, as long as it is (or claims to be) “Christian” in some way. Though it’s getting harder to tell what that’s even supposed to mean, especially when you look at the albums Christianity Today seems to consider as falling in that category. But even if we grant, for the moment, that the music is generally coming from a Christian perspective, it can be rock, pop, heavy metal, light jazz, or folk and still be called CCM.
This isn’t true for southern gospel music, because that label is pin-pointing a very specific style and sound. Granted, there is flex room for influences from other styles. Perhaps there’s a jazz piano or a bluegrass fiddle, or perhaps a song has a country or pop flare. But too much borrowing can lead away from “southern gospel music” pretty quickly. Sort of like Garth Brooks and country music. (Though whatever you want to call him, he’s pretty darn good.) I’m not saying that this means we should find a new label, I’m just pointing it out as a matter of curiosity.
So what are some key characteristics of the “true southern gospel sound?” Well, there’s a certain male quartet sound that could really only be described as southern gospel. It’s very hearty and expressive, completely different from the barbershop quartet. There’s also the convention sound, which can display itself in the piano or in vocal harmonies. It doesn’t get much more southern gospel than an old convention song. I could give numerous examples, but “Give the World a Smile” is coming to mind as one perfect example.
It seems like that’s only the tip of the iceberg though. I could keep rambling to try to express what I’m getting at, but I think I’ll let you guys pick up the conversation from here. Feel free to be verbose.