Playing Bass for Gospel Music

I powered up the large guitar/bass amplifier and the valves behind the amplifier grill lit up in a sort of dull orange glow. The singers were warming up and their voices echoed at the Moravian Church hall in North London I was at. I was going to play the first instrument I ever bought, an electric bass guitar and in a context I could never have thought of.

A gospel choir singing a mixture of negro spirituals, classical and pop songs.

Moravian Church Hall

The empty church hall minutes before the audience were to fill it up.

As I slowly decoded the music to figure out what bass lines to adapt, I realised a very familiar theme running through the songs. So far I had thought that all modern music stems from the Blues. But gospel music is in fact what actually lead to the blues in the first place. Indeed Elvis Presley music had a heavy influence of gospel music and thanks to him the music lives on in another form through modern guitar based rock/pop. I was pretty impressed by this new found knowledge!

The program had a bunch of songs and a narrative by a lady who took the audience through the history of this music. It was really educational for me and there were some sad moments realising how some slaves in America used this music to keep themselves happy and express themselves. Swing Low Sweet Chariot, which is a classic we all know is reputed to have secret words that helped slaves escape the American South and into the North. Go Down Moses sung by one of the men in the choir was also quite touching with some deep low resonant vocal notes.

There were also some beautifully sung classical pieces by the ladies in the small choir. But it wasn’t all gospel and classical, we finished off with a nice bright set that included Lean on Me and the final song Let The River Run as written by Carly Simon. It is a “hymn with a jungle backbeat” that she wrote especially for the film Working Girl.

So here it is, the song by Carly Simon. Turn it up and enjoy 🙂


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