15 Best Gospel Musicians of Every Decade15 Best Gospel Musicians of Every Decade

Gospel musicians have a long legacy that few other genres can match. Kings, queens, legends…the list goes on and on.

Soul, rock’n’roll, and R&B have all been influenced by gospel music at some point. This is clear in the fact that the list of artists influenced spans James Brown to Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones.

Gospel music can be found in a number of different genres and styles, from soul music to rock & roll. James Brown, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones all incorporated gospel influences into their works.

When you listen to gospel music, it’s not surprising that it is sung by all kinds of artists – even those from other genres. All of the best ones have really versatile vocal abilities and often sing in different styles.

Although they might come from different faiths and backgrounds, these singers all believe in something larger than themselves and their music is always a testament to that. Whether you’re looking for the traditional country gospel or solemn blues, this list has it.

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In this article, we are going to list the top 15 gospel artists of all time…

15. Reverend Gary Davis (1896-1972)

Gospel blues has a long tradition of performers; has anyone heard of Son House, Blind Willie Johnson is for sure, and Skip James? But the most distinguished performer is Reverend Gary Davis.

Davis, who started out on the street as a musician, had a powerful voice with simple accompaniment and deep pathos.

Davis, who began as a street musician, was a powerful gospel singer whose simplicity of playing and deep pathos in his vocals brought out the mournful qualities of gospel songs such as “I Heard The Angels Singing.”

This blind singer was in deep religious fervor and infusing beauty into music. As a result, he inspired countless other musicians, one of them being Bob Dylan. Dylan also released several songs, including “Jesus Met The Woman At The Well.”

14. Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993)

Thomas A Dorsey was widely recognized as the father of gospel music, penning some of the world’s most well-known gospel songs. Moments before Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in 1968, he asked to have Thomas’ best-known song, “Take My Hand Precious Lord,” played in honor of him while he walked down to his immortalized resting place.

In the following days “Take My Hand Precious Lord” was almost more than just the anthem of black America. Dorsey, who used to be a jazz pianist and composer before he became a songwriter, helped create the first gospel chorus and added tabernacle song material and blues touches to his spiritual material.

He founded the National Convention Of Gospel Choirs & Choruses and would also go on to write some truly beautiful songs. His most famous song, ‘Peace In The Valley,’ was written in 1939 during a train journey.

13. Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972)

Mahalia Jackson’s alluring gospel singing captured the attention of people from every background and will never be forgotten. Her strong & beautiful voice could make anyone feel emotional.

With the 1947 release of “Move On Up A Little Higher,” Jackson became the first gospel artist to sell one million copies, putting the genre into the mainstream. In 1961, She sang the US national anthem at President Kennedy’s inauguration.

Gospel music was big throughout her career but her most notable impact was inspiring other gospel singers, including Mavis Staples.

12. Sallie Martin (1895-1988)

Sallie Martin was born in Georgia but lived in Chicago. She was a contemporary of Dorsey and Jackson, and she worked with them to spread gospel music. She started singing in churches at a young age, then teamed up with Roger from Chicago later on.

She founded a gospel publishing house and worked with the Sallie Martin Singers to discover Ruth James, who became better known as Dinah Washington.

11. Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973)

Rosetta Tharpe, born & raised by her mother who traveled around as a gospel singing preacher for the Church of God in Christ, started performing from age 6.

She was discovered by John Hammond who invited her to perform with Count Basie in his Carnegie Hall concert. She then recorded “Gospel Train”.

Though she was also a guitarist and pioneer rockin’ roller, her gospel singing had an immense impact on Elvis Presley. Her songs ranged from rolls to gospel, always sincere and full of virtuosity.

Her song “Strange Things Happening Every Day” became the first gospel record to reach the R&B Top 10 in 1945.

10. James Cleveland (1931-1991)

As well as being an inspirational gospel singer, Reverend James Cleveland also worked wonders behind the scenes as a pianist, composer, arranger, and producer. He also taught Aretha Franklin to sing gospel and was hailed as the Crown Prince Of Gospel.

He won 3 Grammys and has written and arranged more than 400 Gospel songs. He was the first gospel artist to receive a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Besides the founding of the Gospel Music Workshop in Detroit, Cliff credits his greatest accomplishment to be one of the founders of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

9. Sam Cooke (1931-1964)

All of the gospel singers on this list are really, really good. But my favorite is Same Cooke. He was terrific in the gospel but made the leap to secular music effortlessly.

He learned his trade as a boy and became famous with The Soul Stirrers, recording gems such as “Touch The Hem Of His Garment.”

Cooke’s smooth & soulful voice is best suited to narrative gospel songs, and his songwriting skills saw him gain some popularity early in his career. However, Cooke later moved away from the gospel in pursuit of a successful solo act with popular hits like “(What A) Wonderful World.”

8. Johnny Cash (1932-2003)

Country music has always had a close relationship with the gospel, one of the most heartfelt gospel songs came from Johnny Cash, who first recorded a gospel album in 1959 with Hymns.

Cash said, “Even though gospel music is deeply rooted in me and it’s a big part of my concerts – I can’t do a concert without singing a gospel song. It was what inspired me as a child growing up on the cotton farm. Hard work was never enough to get us by – music somehow made it feel worthwhile.”

7. Shirley Caesar (born 1938)

Shirley Caesar’s father was a noted gospel singer and she followed in his footsteps. Shirley joined The Caravans before launching her solo career which has led to her being the first black female singer to win a Grammy

She has being crowned 10 more Grammys and 3 times gold albums. She is also knowledgeable about music and in 2008, she gave a speech on the evolution of gospel music to the US Treasury Department.

6. Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)

Aretha Franklin was just 14 when she recorded the 1956 album named, Songs Of Faith. The album was done at the New Bethel Baptist Church where her father served as Reverend.

Before she became a superstar, Franklin was a talented gospel singer and her voice could cope with the higher notes required to become one of the best gospel singers on record.

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Franklin’s 1972 album Amazing Grace is one of her most successful and popular albums. It became a commercial force in the rock era and in 2012 she was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall Of Fame.

5. Yolanda Adams (born 1961)

Adams recalled that when she was first starting out as a gospel singer, she received great encouragement from others in the industry-especially from Tramaine Hawkins and Shirley Caesar. Adams, who has also achieved success in the acting world, used to host her own nationally syndicated gospel radio show.

She has sold nearly 8 million albums worldwide and is widely acclaimed for her work. It’s important to note that to some consumers are likely to confuse her tune “Yes, Jesus Loves Me” with the Whitney Houston gospel hit “Jesus Loves Me.”

4. Israel Houghton (born 1971)

The five-time Grammy award-winning singer and producer Israel Houghton, known by his stage name “Israel & New Breed,” was born in Carlsbad, California.

After the success of his first album in 1997, and then he went on to release many high-quality albums, including Alive in South Africa and The Power Of One.

Houghton has an attractive voice and is also an accomplished arranger and producer. He’s worked on albums by Michael Gungor.

After a period in the spotlight, Houghton released two albums – Feels Like Home, volumes 1 and 2. Alongside his impressive vocals, he is also a talented guitarist and keyboard player.

3. Tasha Cobbs Leonard (born 1981)

At the end of 2020, Tasha Cobbs Leonard was named Billboard’s Top Gospel Artist of the Decade.

The singer-songwriter, born in Jesup, Georgia, said she realized she had a special gift when, aged 15, she stood in for a youth choir member who had not shown up and made her mark by singing “Now Behold the Lamb.”

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She went on to perform professionally, and her initial single “Break Every Chain,” which was given a Grammy as a part of Motown Gospel’s portfolio, helped her succeed.

She’s one of the biggest modern gospel performers, In 2018 she appeared as herself in the made-for-television movie as seen in the Sinners Wanted.

2. Marvin Sapp (born 1967)

Bishop Marvin L. Sapp, a pastor in Texas, has been singing gospel music since he was four years old.

Sapp released his first album in 1996 and went on to have million-selling single hits with his two most celebrated songs, “Best in Me” and “Never Would Have Made It.” The latter of which was written as a tribute after the death of his father.

Marvin Sapp has garnered 13 Grammy nominations throughout the years and it’s easy to see why. His raspy voice, paired with his writings that carry a similar tone, have made him a force to be reckoned with in the music business. He is also an author of 8 books about faith.

Sapp said in a recent interview that gospel music was providing “a message of hope” during this era of pandemic worry.

1. Kirk Franklin (born 1970)

Kirk Franklin has combined hip-hop with the gospel to create some controversy and get onto the best-selling gospel artist list. His albums have sold more than 13 million copies.

He has won 12 Grammys and enjoyed success leading a number of successful urban gospel groups, including The Family, God’s Property, and One Nation Crew (1NC).

Franklin is just one example of how spiritual music evolution has fluttered at the hands of modern gospel singers.

Modern gospel music is in a very good place right now and has attracted many great artists. The likes of Kim Burrell, Chance The Rapper, and Kanye West have all created their own personal sounds while singers like BeBe & CeCe Winans, Todd Dulaney, and Dorinda Clark-Cole show just how versatile the genre is.

It is not uncommon for singers to tackle the genre of gospel nowadays. Stars such as Chance The Rapper, and Kanye West, are all interpreting modern gospel in different and vibrant ways.

So, what do you think about this list? Let us know in the comment section.