This will introduce you to some of the most famous male gospel singers of the last century.
Gospel music is typically defined as music that is rooted in the Christian faith. This means that technically it is defined by its lyrical themes more than its musical elements. That said, gospel music generally has origins in blues and folk, with an emphasis on vocals.
The genre is so broad and there have been so many influential gospel artists that this list focuses solely on men within the genre. The list covers a selection of old and new gospel artists who have made an impact over the last century.
Let’s dive in and discover twenty of the best male gospel singers of all time.
Best known for co-writing the song ‘Mary, Did You Know?,’ Mark Lowry is a comedian and minister as well as gospel singer.
‘Mary, Did You Know?’ is a Christmas song addressing Mother Mary. The track was used as the basis for a stage musical which went on to win the Gospel Music Association Dove Award for Musical of the Year in 1999.
Lowry was also part of the southern gospel group Gaither Vocal Band, being a member for 13 years. He was popular amongst fans for his baritone and stage presence.
With a career that has spanned upwards of fifty years, Larnelle Harris has won five Grammy Awards, and eleven Dove awards, and has recorded eighteen albums.
The singer trained at Western Kentucky University and later joined The Spurrlows, a popular gospel touring group. Harris is known for his duets with Sandi Patty, a Christian singer known for her vocal range and flexibility.
He even performed at the White House, singing his track ‘Mighty Spirit’ for George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara.
Edwin Hawkins was one of the leading figureheads of the urban contemporary gospel sound. His arrangement of ‘Oh Happy Day’ was included on the Recording Industry Association of America’s “Songs of the Century” list.
In 1967, Hawkins co-founded the Church of God in Christ who recorded an LP as a fundraiser for the 1968 Youth Congress. ‘Oh Happy Day’ came from that very LP, becoming an instant hit and was subsequently played on radio stations around the country.
Phil Keaggy has a massive discography under his belt. With over fifty-five albums recorded, Keaggy has made a significant contribution to the popularisation of Christian music, merging it into mainstream markets.
Despite his interest in gospel later in life, Keaggy didn’t become a Christian until 1970 after the death of his mother. In 2007, Keaggy was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame for his contribution to the genre as well as being twice nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Gospel Album.
The Winans family are responsible for a good number of the most famous gospel singers of all time, including Ronald Winans and BeBe and CeCe Winans, a brother and sister duo. However, arguably the most talented of the clan is Marvin Winans, an American pastor, singer, and Winans family musical member.
Winans and his brothers started the group The Testimonial Singers, first performing at a high school talent show and eventually releasing Introducing The Winans, their first album.
Their 1985 track ‘Bring Back the Days of Yea and Nay,’ earned Winans a Grammy award for Best Male Soul Gospel Performance. It wasn’t until 2007 that the gospel singer released his first solo recording, continuing to make music and perform to this day.
The “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Elvis Presley, although known for his effortless rock vocals had musical talents beyond his not-suitable-for-50s-television-hips. The singer reinvented himself late in his career, releasing a gospel album He Touched Me in 1972 which deals with Elvis’ spirituality.
The title of the album is taken from the New Testament, included in stories where Jesus touches people’s lives and changes them for the better in some way.
He Touched Me won Elvis the second of his three Grammy Awards and was certified Platinum in July of 1999. This album was one of three gospel albums the icon made. Interestingly, the only Grammy Awards he won were for his gospel recordings.
Johnny Cash is truly a music master. With a career that spanned almost fifty years, he embraces sounds from all corners of the United States from country to blues to gospel.
Cash was inspired by gospel music at a young age through listening to the radio. The singer released an album called My Mother’s Hymn Book decades later which contained traditional gospel songs.
Later on in his career, Cash had his own show, The Johnny Cash Show. With fifty-eight episodes contained in two seasons, the closing programme was a gospel music special. The performer brought on special guests including gospel legends Blackwood Brothers and Mahalia Jackson.
Submerging himself in both country and gospel music, Larry Gatlin first made his name being part of the Gatlin Brothers, a trio he founded with his two brothers. The group achieve noteworthy success thanks to their gospel-inflected harmonies woven into their tracks.
Having been brought up with gospel greats, the group decided to record a gospel album. In the late 60s, Gatlin broke away from his brothers and joined the Imperials. The Christian music group would go on to win four Grammys, fifteen Dove Awards, and be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Carmen Licciardello, better known simply as Carmen, was a jack of all trades. He was a singer, rapper, songwriter, television host, and evangelist. Musically gifted as a youngster, Carmen played the drums, played the guitar, and sang all before the age of 16.
After becoming a born-again Christian, the singer released his debut album God’s Not Finished with Me. Over the course of his career, Carmen has been nominated for four Grammys and has sold over 10 million records, making him one of the best-selling male gospel singers of all time.
The Blackwood Brothers
Formed in the midst of the Great Depression, The Blackwood Brothers (formed of three brothers and a son) began travelling around their home of Mississippi performing. After a few member changes, the group moved to Tennessee and began appearing on television and signed a major recording contract with RCA Victor.
The Blackwood Brothers are known for pioneering the Gospel Music Association, setting Guinness World Records, touring with multiple other gospel acts, and starting their own record label, Skylite Records. The group has also won several Grammy Awards including Best Gospel Performance several times.
American songwriter Kirk Franklin is known for lighting a fire under urban contemporary gospel music, leading several ensembles, and winning numerous awards.
Franklin got his start organising The Family, a seventeen-voice choir that he formed from his neighbourhood friends. Upon hearing it in 1992, GospCentric Records immediately signed the group up to a recording contract. It wasn’t until 2002 Franklin released his first solo album, The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin, which topped the Gospel Albums chart for a whopping twenty-nine weeks, and achieved Platinum certification.
Kirk Franklin has won nineteen Grammy Awards and has been dubbed the “Reigning King of Urban Gospel” by Variety magazine. He is undoubtedly amongst the most successful and most famous male gospel singers of this generation.
Officially one of the top-selling gospel artists of all time (over ten million albums sold worldwide), Donnie McClurkin has won three Grammy Awards, and ten Stellar Awards, as well as several others.
In his early life, McClurkin was a minister. He worked in Michigan where he would preach Christianity to the masses. His singing career was propelled thanks to his friendship with a Warner Alliance executive.
Through the label, McClurkin released his self-titled debut LP which was praised by Oprah Winfrey and thus went Gold. His desire to share gospel music globally led him to include a language medley in most live performances.
Thomas A. Dorsey
Thomas Andrew Dorsey was an American musician who is now considered a vital part of the development of twentieth-century gospel music. Dorsey found himself amid a spiritual awakening and began writing religious music, eventually training the first generation of gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson and James Cleaveland.
Thanks to his genre pioneering, Dorsey has been dubbed the “Father of Gospel Music” and has left behind an impressive legacy. For this reason, he is amongst the most influential and most famous male gospel singers ever.
Jerry Lee Lewis
Although Jerry Lee Lewis’ playing was often labelled as boogie-woogie and good old-fashioned rock n’ roll, gospel music was a significant influence on the musician. As a teenager, Lewis fell in love with rock music however, due to his religious upbringing, he was often drawn back to music rooted in Christianity.
Lewis eventually released a gospel album in 1971 and has recorded multiple gospel covers in more modern times. As recently as 2022, the musician released a collaborative gospel album with his cousin titled The Boys from Ferriday.
Considered to be one of the pioneers of Gospel Music TV, Les Beasley started his career with the McManus Trio, moving on to The Gospel Melody Quartet in 1953 which was later renamed The Florida Boys Quartet.
Beasley is credited as being an innovator in the South, introducing newer sounds by incorporating more contemporary instrumentation. He later became the president of the Gospel Music Association and served as a permanent board member. In 1989 the singer was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame.
Throughout the 60s and 70s, Ralph Carmichael gained recognition as the “Father of Contemporary Christian Music,” building a large religious audience. Beforehand, he had created a men’s quartet on his university campus which blended jazz and classical sounds with gospel songs and hymns.
Later in life, he was known for taking traditional gospel songs and adapting them into big band pieces which caused a divide among Christians. Despite this, Carmichael was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1985.
In his early career, Al Green was known as an R&B artist, with memorable hits throughout the 1970s. However, as the decade was coming to a close, Green’s sales were dropping, and he fell off a stage, injuring himself. He considered this a message from God.
From that point, the singer turned his attention to gospel music, releasing multiple albums throughout the 80s. Green’s switch to Christian music earned him his first Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance for his album The Lord Will Make a Way.
Marvin Sapp began his gospel career while being part of the urban contemporary gospel group, Commissioned, founded in 1983. Sapp was not an original member of the group, instead joining in 1990 after two of the original members had left. Commissioned recorded twelve albums and were nominated for a Grammy Award.
After his time with the collective, Sapp established himself as a solo artist, recording seven albums and reaching new levels of fame with his album Thirsty. The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums and has sold over 500,000 copies. Sapp is one of the highest chart-placing and best-selling gospel artists of all time.
Often referred to as the “Father of Modern Gospel Music,” Andraé Crouch was known for several gospel recordings, with multiple artists covering some of his most well-known tracks.
Crouch was also a pastor who covered traditional hymns before composing songs of his own. Although criticised by some for diluting the Christian message, Crouch has also been praised for shrinking the gap between black and white versions of the genre. One of his most notable achievements is being involved with the arranging and conducting of The Lion King score.
The gospel legend has won numerous awards inclining seven Grammys and having his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
James Cleveland played a vital role in the development of contemporary gospel music, fusing many other genres into his work such as pop, soul, and jazz. The composer would use traditional black gospel sounds and arrange them for mass choirs. For his innovation and pioneering of contemporary gospel, Cleveland earned the title of “King of Gospel,” appearing on hundreds of recordings.
Throughout his career, Cleveland won multiple awards and was most notable for being the first gospel singer to have his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was also inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1984.
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