gospel music

5 Takeaways from Tuesday's White House Celebration of Gospel Music

Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

First lady Michelle Obama welcomes students to the White House on April 14, 2015. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

First lady Michelle Obama hosted a discussion with musicians and students on gospel music at the White House on April 14, praising gospel’s role as “a ray of hope” in American history.

“Gospel music has really played such an important role in our country’s history,” she told more than 100 students gathered in the State Dining Room, “from the spirituals sung by slaves, to the anthems that became the soundtrack of the civil rights movement, and to the hymns that millions of Americans sing every single day in churches all across the country.”

Here are some of the lessons learned during the 75-minute event, where Grammy Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli interviewed a panel of singers and songwriters ahead of a star-studded concert that will air on PBS on June 26 as part of the “In Performance at the White House” series.

1. Gospel music is personal for the first lady.

“I’m really thrilled that we’re really focusing on gospel,” Obama said of the series that has previously featured classical, country, and soul music.

“It’s something that I wanted to do since we started.”

The Siege Mentality of Christian Radio Stations

Photo via Fernando Cortes / Shutterstock.com

A medieval crossbow. Photo via Fernando Cortes / Shutterstock.com

On my recent 4,100-mile pilgrimage across the U.S., I occasionally used my radio’s “seek” function to find stations.

I often stopped on a “Christian radio” station, sometimes a national network such as American Family Radio, sometimes a local effort featuring preachers from area churches, always conservative.

I did so because I enjoy gospel music and I was curious what the radio preachers were saying.

They tended to be excellent speakers and well-prepared. But their message seemed frozen in time, as if nothing had changed in America since the 1950s except for the identities of enemies who are allegedly “attacking Christians,” "attacking Christian values” and “attacking the American way of life.”

This siege mentality seemed basic to every preacher I heard. I suppose it’s one way to rally the troops. Get them fearful, angry, and suspicious.

November Sings the Blues

Bare branches in the rain. Image courtesy PunctRo/shutterstock.com

Bare branches in the rain. Image courtesy PunctRo/shutterstock.com

Late November is Vitamin D season. The dregs of the year threaten to swamp the spirit, clinging to each rough edge of the soul, and frequent shots of sunshine and warm coziness are needed just to keep the deep at bay. Each shadow left in the wake of autumn’s receding glory whispers, “Not yet.” And, “Not anymore.”

Next week the liturgical church celebrates Advent — the crown jewel of liminal spirituality. Advent is the thinnest place of Christian ritual, where material Today touches fingertips with spiritual Tomorrow. It looks forward while standing still, gently holding the embers of our souls, watching with hope for divine light and grace to set them aflame. Advent is gospel, singing, “The real story is yet to come.” Advent is the Now and the Not Yet.

But this week is for the Not Anymore. Today is for the blues. 

Gospel Artist BeBe Winans Opens Up About Whitney Houston

RNS photo courtesy BeBe Winans

RNS photo courtesy BeBe Winans

In his new book, “The Whitney I Knew,” gospel artist BeBe Winans describes his 28-year friendship with singer Whitney Houston. Winans, 49, and his sister CeCe, performed with Houston, and sang at her funeral in February. His older brother, Marvin, gave the eulogy for Houston at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J.

In an interview, Winans talked about the faith of the woman known just as “Whitney,” and why he won’t rush to see her in “Sparkle,” the movie that opens Friday (Aug. 17).

Happy 103rd Birthday, George Beverly Shea!


This week, George Beverly Shea, Gospel Music legend and longtime musical companion of Dr. Billy Graham on his many revival meetings around the world, celebrated his 103rd birthday!

A native of Canada, Shea, who now lives in Montreat, N.C., not far from that whipper-snapper Graham (who turned 93 just recently), is still going strong.

“Karlene and I rejoice in the Lord’s overwhelming grace to give me 103 years of life!” Shea gushed on Monday (his actual birthday) according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's website.