10 Famous Gospel Songs

by Pamela Rose Williams on March 27, 2012 · Print Print · Email Email

When you mention gospel songs most people think of Southern gospel, which became popular in the Southern United States during the 1020s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. It is that Christian music that has “quartet-style” harmonies and a piano.[1] But I believe some famous Gospel songs came even before the birth of Southern gospel. I am talking about those songs considered to be American religious music that started on the plantations in Southern America; sung by the Christian African slaves while they worked and attended church. Most of the famous gospel songs known today would be based on the old Negro Spirituals that have the classic syncopated beat and even at times more than one rhythm (polyrhythmic) which is played at the same time. Many of them have been sung since the 1600s becoming very popular in the 1800s.

Famous Gospel SongsThe authorship of many of the Negro Spirituals is unknown. These gospel songs were mostly made up of just 5 notes; simple to sing and easy to harmonize. The words generally come straight from the scriptures in these gospel songs and they are sung with much emotion.[2] Be sure to listen to the video in the upper right of this page for a medley of many famous gospel songs.

I found a great site with history and information for the Negro Spiritual[3]. The site does a great job explaining the basically three different classes of song in this genre:

  • the “call and response chant”
  • the slow, sustained, long-phrase melody
  • and the syncopated, segmented melody

Famous Gospel Songs: Sample of Each Class

Swing Low Sweet Chariot (Wallace Willis)

In this most famous call and response chant type song the “preacher” sings the first line and the “congregation” echos with a response:

Preacher: Swing low, sweet chariot

Congregation: Coming for to carry me home

Preacher: Swing low, sweet chariot

Congregation: Coming for to carry me home

Preacher: If you get there before I do

Congregation: Coming for to carry me home

Preacher: Tell all my friends, I’m coming too

Congregation: Coming for to carry me home

Deep River

Listen to this slow, sustained, long-phase melody by Spiritual Workshop Paris. Click on the sound file for a sample of this famous gospel song:

Deep River Audio

Oh Happy Day (Philip Doddridge)

The syncopated, segmented melody is always sung by a choir and it features an upbeat tune and lots of swaying. I think you will enjoy this famous gospel song sung by the award winning Soweto Gospel Choir. I want to sing lead on this one in Heaven — and I’m gonna dance too!

Other Famous Gospel Songs

Amazing Grace (John Newton)

This popular gospel song was written by a slave ship’s captain. Although considered speculation, this song is attributed to an old slave tune and originally played only on the black keys of the piano, which gave it a very “minor” and sorrowful melody. My favorite verse is below. You will not find it in all hymnals:

When we’ve been there

Ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun

We’ve no less days

To Sing God’s praise

Then when we first begun

Go Down, Moses

I would classify this one as a slow, sustained, long-phrase melody and I believe it is best sung by a man with a very low, bass voice. This song is based on the scripture Exodus 5:1 Here is a sound bite: Go Down, Moses

  1. When Israel was in Egypt’s land,
    Let My people go!
    Oppressed so hard they could not stand,
    Let My people go!
     
    • Refrain:
      Go down, Moses,
      Way down in Egypt’s land;
      Tell old Pharaoh
      To let My people go!
       
  2. No more shall they in bondage toil,
    Let My people go!
    Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil,
    Let My people go
     
  3. Oh, let us all from bondage flee,
    Let My people go!
    And let us all in Christ be free,
    Let My people go!
     
  4. You need not always weep and mourn,
    Let My people go!
    And wear these slav’ry chains forlorn,
    Let My people go!
     
  5. Your foes shall not before you stand,
    Let My people go!
    And you’ll possess fair Canaan’s land,
    Let My people go!

He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands (H.Linden, Geoffrey Love)

This is a great song to sing with children. It includes motions and is sung in unison. Here is an adorable group of Zambian children singing it:

It’s a Me Oh Lord (Standing in the Need of Prayer)

I sang this one with my children when they were little and it was one that the children at church love to sing to. Can you tell me what class this one falls into? I could not resist sharing this video with you:

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

This is a song of great sorrow leading to hope and joy with the lyrics “Glory Hallelujah”. It is sung in the slow, sustained, long-phrase style. The most famous, rendition in later years was done by Louis Armstrong. Here is a sound bite: Nobody Knows Take a look at the lyrics:

Nobody knows the trouble that I’ve seen
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble that I’ve seen
Glory hallelujiah

Nobody knows the trouble that I’ve seen
Nobody knows my, my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble that I’ve seen
Glory hall- glory hallelujiah

Sometimes I’m up and sometimes I’m down
Oh, yes lord
You know sometimes almost to the ground
Oh, oh yes lord

Still, nobody knows the trouble that I’ve seen
Nobody, nobody knows my, my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble that I’ve seen
Glory hallelujiah

If you get there before I do
Oh, oh yes lord
Don’t forget to tell all my friends I’m comin’ too
Whoa, oh yes lord

Still, nobody knows the trouble that I’ve seen
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble that I’ve seen
Glory hall- hallelujiah

Sinner Please

The famous gospel song was sung in the fields and the author is unknown.  The lyrics speak for themselves:

Sinner, please don’t let this harvest pass
Sinner, please don’t let this harvest pass
Sinner, please don’t let this harvest pass
And die and lose your soul at last.

I know that my Redeemer lives
I know that my Redeemer lives
I know that my Redeemer lives
Sinner, please don’t let this harvest pass

Sinner, O see the cruel tree
Sinner, O see the cruel tree
Sinner, O see the cruel tree
Where Christ died for you and me

My God is a mighty man of war
My God is a mighty man of war
My God is a mighty man of war
Sinner, please don’t let this harvest pass

We Shall Overcome (Rev. Charles Tindley)

Original lyrics “I shall overcome” were changed to “We shall overcome” and made famous during the US Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Here is a lovely arrangement sung by the young men of Morehouse College. I cannot hear this song without the following scripture coming to mind: “For there is no respect of persons with God” (Romans 2:11).

Sources:

[1] Way of Life Literature, Inc.

[2] http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/gospel+music

[3] http://www.negrospirituals.com/song.htm

The Holy Bible, King James Version

Various YouTube videos



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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Ina Calitz July 31, 2012 at 7:06 am

We are looking for the song: SING AS YOU GO – keep on singing? Do you have or or where can we get it please?

Thanks.

I CALITZ
+27113962233 South Africa

Reply

Y. SAMUEL September 18, 2012 at 1:54 am

I SEE YOUR WEB SITE VERY THANKS U R MASSAGE TO JESUS CHRIST

Reply

dorian February 9, 2013 at 6:59 am

God said keep on going forward into rightoeness so keep on
Marching.;):);):(¦;):(:$:’(:$:o:’(:o:P:S:o:’(

Reply

sherry brooks February 24, 2013 at 7:39 pm

IM JUST A NOBODY.

Reply

Keyla JULAJ March 5, 2013 at 4:11 pm

GOD LOVES US VERY MUCH JUST KEEP ON HAVING FAITH WITH OUR GOD BEACUSE HE IS DOCTER OF DOCTERS

Reply

JULIUS April 3, 2013 at 7:26 am

I am indeed grateful for the grace of God toward you.

Reply

AKOTO ZENA May 15, 2013 at 3:45 am

Am so blessed with the children’s songs, GOD bless you abundantly

Reply

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