There’s something about listening to great old-school style gospel songs that always seems to revive a tired soul. Over the years, gospel music’s most beloved vocalists have served up songs that have inspired audiences around the globe and filled hearts with the timeless message of unconditional love that gospel songs convey.
From the soul-stirring voice of Mahalia Jackson to the mass appeal of the Edwin Hawkins Singers “Oh Happy Day” to current gospel queen Tamela Mann’s encouraging anthems, gospel songs have long been part of the fabric of the American experience.
Here we take a look at some of the genre’s most memorable music from the original classics to the “new classics.” Sing along if the Spirit moves you!
1. “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” by Aretha Franklin (1956)
Known as the “Queen of Soul,” Franklin got her start singing gospel songs at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, MI where her father was the minister. This classic hymn was written by 18th century British poet/songwriter William Cowper. Franklin recorded the song at her father’s church when she was only 14 for the Songs of Faith album. It was later reissued in 1983 on Aretha Gospel.
2. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Mahalia Jackson (1957)
This stirring song of inspiration is from the 1945 Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical Carousel. The gospel song has been recorded numerous times over the years, including a memorable rendition by Elvis Presley as well as covers by Gerry and the Pacemakers, Patti LaBelle, Marcus Mumford and Aretha Franklin. During the pandemic, the song re-surfaced as an anthem of support for medical staff and first responders dealing with the Covid crisis.
3. “Oh Happy Day” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers (1967)
This uplifting anthem is based on the 1755 hymn by clergyman Philip Doddridge. When Hawkins and his stellar vocalists put their stamp on the song, it became an international hit, climbing to No. 4 on the U.S. chart and hitting No. 1 in France, Germany and the Netherlands and also climbed the charts in Ireland, Canada and the U.K. Recorded at Hawkins’ church, the Ephesian Church of God in Christ in Berkeley, CA, the gospel song features Dorothy Combs Morrison singing lead and won a Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance in 1970.
Over the years, the song has been featured in numerous films, including Sister Act 2, Big Momma’s House, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, License to Wed, Rize and BlacKkKlansman.
4. “My Tribute (To God be the Glory)” by Andrae Crouch (1972)
One of the late Andrae Crouch’s most enduring hits, “My Tribute” has been recorded by many artists over the years, including Sandy Patti, Nicole C. Mullen and Crystal Lewis. Crouch wrote the song after a friend called and told him that he dreamed Crouch was going to write a song that would “go around the world,” and suggested he open his Bible and read John 17 in which Jesus says, “I have glorified thee on the earth. I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with the before the world was.” The next morning, the seven-time Grammy winner woke up singing “To God be the Glory,” went to his piano and wrote the song in 10 minutes.
5. “You Brought the Sunshine” by The Clark Sisters (1981)
For the daughters of the famed Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, gospel songs have always been part of life. Both as a group and individually Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark, Karen Clark-Sheard, Dorinda Clark-Cole and Jacky Clark-Chisholm have contributed mightily to the canons of gospel music. The Detroit natives are three-time Grammy winners and “You Brought the Sunshine” is one of the sisters’ best loved classics. The song became a crossover smash that was not only a hit on the gospel charts but also did well on the R&B and Dance charts. Beyonce revived the song when she sampled it in the song “Church Girl” from her 2022 album Renaissance.
6. “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” by Al Green (1987)
Recorded on his 1987 album Soul Survivor, this comforting anthem spotlights the Reverend Green’s signature smooth vocals and passionate delivery. Known for both his gospel songs and secular R&B hits, 77-year-old Green is an 11-time Grammy winner who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Written by Eban Kelly and Jimi Randolph, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” speaks of Jesus returning to earth, a message Rev. Green loves to share.
7. “Redeemer” by Nicole C. Mullen (2000)
Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Nicole C. Mullen was inspired to write this stirring song after reading the story of Job in the Bible. After suffering numerous trials and afflictions, Job said, “I know that my redeemer lives and at the last day, He will stand upon the Earth.” Mullen took that inspiring passage and penned one of the most powerful songs of faith ever written. Propelled by her strong emotional voice, “Redeemer” was named Song of the Year at the 2001 Dove Awards. Mullen closed the 32nd Annual Dove Awards with an incredible performance of “Redeemer” that remains one of the best moments in Dove history.
8. “The Best is Yet to Come” by Donald Lawrence & the Tri-City Singers (2002)
Released as the lead single from Donald Lawrence’s 2002 album Go Get Your Life Back, this exuberant hit was also reissued on Restoring the Years: The Best of Donald Lawrence & the Tri-City Singers. The gospel song’s positive message about the potential for a better future has been resonating with fans for more than two decades.
9. “Never Would Have Made It” by Marvin Sapp (2007)
Dealing with the grief of his father Henry’s death in 2006, Marvin Sapp was struggling to find the words to preach a few days later. Through the pain and loss, he felt God’s comforting peace and was inspired to write Never would have made it, never could have made it without you, I would have lost my mind. “The Lord told me that He would always be there for me,” Sapp has said. Arranger Matthew Brownie helped Sapp finish the song and it became a landmark moment on his 2007 album Thirsty. “Never Would Have Made It” topped the gospel chart for an astounding 46 weeks.
10. “God Will Make a Way” by Shirley Caesar (2013)
A native of North Carolina, Caesar got her first break performing with Albertina Walker in her famed group The Caravans. Now 84 and a pastor as well as 11-time Grammy winning singer, Caesar is one of the most distinctive voices in the gospel community. “I am called to be a preacher-evangelist first, and a singer second,” Caesar has been quoted as saying. Recorded on her album Good God, “God Will Make a Way” peaked at No. 3 on the gospel charts and is among Caesar’s most soul-stirring classics. She gave a powerful performance of the song at the 2014 Stellar Awards.
11. “The Battle is the Lord’s” Yolanda Adams (2015)
Houston native Yolanda Adams has sold more than 10 million albums globally and become one of the premiere gospel singers of her generation. “The Battle is the Lord’s” was written by gospel songwriter V. Michael McCay and recorded by Adams on her 1983 album Save the World. A live version of the track, from the album Yolanda… Live In Washington, won Song of the Year at the 1994 Stellar Awards.
12. “Wanna Be Happy?” by Kirk Franklin (2015)
This song was the first single released from Franklin’s 12th album Losing My Religion, which won the Grammy Award for Best Gospel Album in 2017. “Wanna Be Happy,” which samples Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone,” won a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance at the 2016 Grammy Awards. “First and foremost, very human being wants to be happy, and we will try different things all in pursuit of that feeling,” Franklin told Billboard when “Wanna Be Happy?” was released. “With this song, I’m saying if you really want to be happy, you have to start with the originator.”
13. “Good and Loved” by Travis Greene featuring Doe Jones (2019)
Since bursting on the gospel scene in 2007, Greene has earned a reputation as one of gospel music’s most talented young artists. Greene co-wrote “Good and Loved” with Steffany Gretzinger, known for her work with Bethel Music. This uplifting anthem topped the chart and has become one of Greene’s most recognizable hits. The combination of Greene and Doe’s passionate vocals elevates this potent song and the video of the two is just teeming with energy.
14. “Touch from You” by Tamela Mann (2020)
This powerful anthem became Tamela Mann’s seventh No. 1 single and remains one of her most beloved hits. The Grammy winning actress/singer/songwriter felt like the song connected with people struggling during the pandemic. “It resonated with people because it was talking about the brokenness in the world,” Mann said in an interview with Billboard. “We’ve all just been trying to survive. It hit home with everyone. The lyrics of the song [say] that we all needed a touch from the Lord. We all needed to hear from him. I wanted to release it simply so it could be a blessing to people. It was just saying everything we needed at that point.”
15. “Believe for It” by CeCe Winans (2021)
Winans co-wrote this uplifting hit with Dwan Hill, Kyle Lee and Mitch Wong and it became the title track of her first live album. The song went to No. 1 on the Hot Gospel Songs chart. It won Gospel Worship Recorded Song of the Year at the 2021 Dove Awards and also won a Grammy in 2022 as well as being named Song of the Year at the 2022 Dove Awards. The same year Winans made history at the Dove Awards as the first black female solo singer to be named Artist of the Year. Winans also recorded a version of the song as a duet with Lauren Daigle.
Speaking about the song, Winans said to Sisters From AARP, “It’s bigger than a record, it’s a theme that I really want people to embrace—people who believe in God and people who might not ever go to church. I believe that hope is needed, and I want to impart this into the hearts of people everywhere. The song challenges people to not brush off your dreams; don’t give up or give in, but it’s time to believe that you can make it.”
Deborah Evans Price believes everyone has a story to tell and, as a journalist, she considers it a privilege to share those stories with the world. Deborah contributes to Billboard, CMA Close Up, Jesus Calling, First for Women, Woman’s World and Country Top 40 with Fitz, among other media outlets. Author of the CMA Awards Vault and Country Faith, Deborah is the 2013 winner of the Country Music Association’s Media Achievement Award and the 2022 recipient of the Cindy Walker Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Western Artists. Deborah lives on a hill outside Nashville with her husband, Gary, son Trey and cat Toby.