Gospel Music in Atlanta: The influence on African American culture

Published: Feb. 20, 2022 at 10:57 AM EST
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ATLANTA (CBS46) — There’s no denying Atlanta has birthed many of the gospel music industry’s heavyweights.

Dottie Peoples, Dorthy Norwood, Byron Cage and the legendary Pace Sisters are just a few of the notable names that have paved the way for future generations in the metro.

Lemons founded Higher Calling, an energetic community choir made up of nearly 100 voices, in...
Lemons founded Higher Calling, an energetic community choir made up of nearly 100 voices, in 1996. He says he’s seen the industry evolve through the years.(Brooks Baptiste)

But as the city welcomes more artists to find their place in the industry, the sound and impact of the genre is going beyond the pews.

Between the message and three-part harmonies, gospel music has always had a unique sound.

“It tells a story of the Black culture and how we were brought up and how we’ve overcome so much,” said Kevin Lemons, a choir director of more than 25 years based in Atlanta. “It’s the good word of hope, the good word of deliverance, the word of joy, just being sung verbally.”

There’s no denying Atlanta has birthed many of the gospel music industry’s heavyweights. Dottie...
There’s no denying Atlanta has birthed many of the gospel music industry’s heavyweights. Dottie Peoples, Dorthy Norwood, Byron Cage, and the legendary Pace Sisters are just a few of the notable names that have paved the way for future generations in the metro. But as the city welcomes more artists to find their place in the industry, the sound and impact of the genre is going beyond the pews.(Brooks Baptiste)

Lemons founded Higher Calling, an energetic community choir made up of nearly 100 voices, in 1996. He says he’s seen the industry evolve through the years.

“Back then, there was one way of doing things,” Lemons said. “Now there’s a lot of charismatic flavors that come along with the teaching and the delivery of gospel music.”

The now edgier sound is meant to reach future generations. But despite a new style, the overall concept has been the backbone of the Black church for decades.

Although community choirs aren’t nearly as popular as they were in the 90′s and early 2000′s, the ones that remain active still have purpose.

“You build character, you build relationship, you build strength, you build in work ethics,” Lemons said.

“It tells a story of the Black culture and how we were brought up and how we’ve overcome so...
“It tells a story of the Black culture and how we were brought up and how we’ve overcome so much,” said Kevin Lemons, a choir director of more than 25 years based in Atlanta. “It’s the good word of hope, the good word of deliverance, the word of joy, just being sung verbally.”(Brooks Baptiste)

For years, gospel’s sound was usually only found in church. But now, the tunes often go beyond the four walls.

“When secular artists involve choirs or groups on their set, I still feel like there is a sense of family,” Lemons said.  “[We’re] all on one stage doing what we love to do, which is sing.”

And with more Black secular artists using gospel music on stage to reel in a broader audience, Lemons says there are more opportunities to spread a powerful message.

“It’s crazy how the gospel community has a way of shutting the door on gospel music, but the secular side has a way of opening and welcoming what we’re trying to demise,” Lemons said.

There’s no denying Atlanta has birthed many of the gospel music industry’s heavyweights. Dottie...
There’s no denying Atlanta has birthed many of the gospel music industry’s heavyweights. Dottie Peoples, Dorthy Norwood, Byron Cage, and the legendary Pace Sisters are just a few of the notable names that have paved the way for future generations in the metro. But as the city welcomes more artists to find their place in the industry, the sound and impact of the genre is going beyond the pews.(Brooks Baptiste)

In a city of transplants, Lemons desires to set an example on every stage.

“I think Atlanta has a spirit of easy to accept people for where they are and who they are,” Lemons said. “It’s very important to me that I keep that gospel heritage alive.”

Higher Calling released its latest project Third Round in 2021. And Lemons says the group is already working on new music to be released in the future.