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Religious music is music made with the intention of expressing one's religious beliefs, in the American tradition, it usually expresses Christian beliefs. Many cultures had their own styles of this, but they all usually involved a large group singing a Capella. Some genres that are typically secular have been adapted to religious purposes. However most of those songs don't sound very different from their secular contemporaries.

  • Shape-Note Spirituals: This is possibly one of the oldest and longest lasting folk traditions in America. The first Shape-Note hymns were written in the 1700s in England and in the American Colonies. The singers would usually sing the notes used in the tune first (i.e. "Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do"), then the words would be sung. There was a large amount of harmony involved, as there usually wasn't any instrumental accompaniment, this importance of harmony was to influence country music. There were many Shape-Note Hymnals, but by far the most well-known is The Sacred Harp, it is still used to this day.
  • African-American Spirituals: This is one of the oldest African-American traditions that has been found on record. While this can also be used to refer Gospel music, it usu ally refers to the (usually) a Capella religious music traditionally sung by the African-American community from c. 1800-1910. Because very few African-Americans could read at this time; one of the members of the congregation would sing a line, and the rest of the congregation would repeat it back. The hymns were usually written in vernacular dialect. In the years following the Civil War, spirituals were introduced to the rest of the world when vocal groups began touring the world. One of the most famous of these are The Fisk Jubilee Singers. The tunes and the words of many of these songs can still be found in some Blues and Gospel songs.
  • African-American Sermons: In the 1920's and 1930's many African-American preachers and their congregations would record sermons that involved singing and chanting. The songs would usually be in the spiritual, gospel, or guitar evangelist style. In the sermons, the preacher would chant a line, and members of the congregation would respond to it in agreement, usually humming an eerie Moaning. Some of the sermons would just be moaning a bible verse for the entire record. One of the most well-known of these preachers was Reverend J.M. Gates.
  • Guitar Evangelism (Religious blues): Starting in possibly c. 1880, African-American preachers and other religious peoples began getting Guitars and singing religious songs with them. These performers are often referred to as "religious blues" singers because their style was very similar to the blues, but most of them preferred to be called "Guitar Evangelists", probably because of the satanic connotations that many religious people had with the blues. Some experts believe that these preachers would begin using guitars because they couldn't get a congregation. They would use a Slide to imitate the moaning of the congregation, the guitarist was often accompanied by a Rhythm Instrument. Though often considered to be a blues sub-genre, it may have actually preceded it. One of the most famous of the Guitar Evangelists was Blind Willie Johnson
  • Gospel: This style exists to this day, but in very different form from when it started. It started as an evolution of the spirituals, where it was faster, louder and sung with more abandon. As time when more and more instrumentation was added. It would influence R&B and Rock 'n' Roll. There was often loud and prominent rhythm section usually involving found objects.
  • Vocal Quartets: This was an African-American style of Religious music that involved a group of usually four male singers, each one singing in a different range in style similar to that of a barbershop quartet. Some of the songs would have the lead man almost "rap" the words. This style may have been an influence on rap music, especially the style exemplified by the Beastie Boys.

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