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When the Church Becomes Your Party

Contemporary Gospel Music

Deborah Smith Pollard

Award Winner

African American Studies, Detroit, Music, Popular Culture, Religion

African American Life Series

Published: April 2008
ISBN: 9780814332184
Pages: 240 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 33 b&w illus.

This is a must-read for all those who love and are inquisitive about the various avenues in the genre of gospel music.

— Pastor Marvin L. Winans

In When the Church Becomes Your Party, author Deborah Smith Pollard assesses contemporary gospel music as the genre enters the twenty-first century. She argues that although the flashy clothing, informal language, and elaborate stage presentation found in some of the newest gospel music might not be what some worshippers expect, this new aesthetic rests on the same Christian principles as more traditional forms and actually extends its message to a wider and younger audience.

In this volume Pollard looks at contemporary gospel music with the insider’s perspective she has acquired as a regular participant in praise and worship services in the Detroit area and through her work as a successful gospel concert producer (The Motor City Praisefest and the McDonald’s GospelFest) and host of a popular Sunday morning gospel show on Detroit’s FM 98 WJLB. Among the topics she considers in When the Church Becomes Your Party are praise and worship music, gospel musical stage plays, the changing dress code of gospel performance, women gospel announcers, and holy hip hop. She draws on Detroit’s thriving gospel scene as well as her knowledge of the national gospel music industry to identify important trends in each area and trace the cultural transformations that brought them about. In addition, Pollard includes interviews with contemporary gospel artists, allowing them to explain why they rap, make particular choices in attire, or participate in gospel radio, praise and worship, or gospel musical plays.

While other studies address some of the subtopics included in this volume, When the Church Becomes Your Party offers a comprehensive picture of the history and future of contemporary gospel music. Scholars of music and African American cultural studies will enjoy this intriguing volume.

Deborah Smith Pollard is associate professor of English literature and humanities and former director of the African American studies program at the University of Michigan–Dearborn. In 2005 she was named gospel music announcer of the year during the 20th Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards.

When the Church Becomes Your Party provides a fascinating journey through the controversial changes in the sound, image, and language expressions of African American gospel music that have taken place over the last forty years. Deborah Smith Pollard not only describes these changes but contextualizes them within an African cultural continuum, the 'Classic Era' of gospel, and the development of a gospel music industry. When the Church Becomes Your Party is a must-read, if only to gain a perspective on the meaning of 'party' in sacred contexts."

– Portia K. Maultsby, professor of ethnomusicology and folklore at Indiana University and co-editor of African American Music: An Introduction

I will always admire the work of Dr. Pollard. We will all be enriched by her research in When the Church Becomes Your Party. This industry highly applauds all of her wonderful contributions."

– Bobby Jones, host and executive producer of Bobby Jones Gospel and producer of Video Gospel on BET

When the Church Becomes Your Party is Pollard's behind-the-scenes look at contemporary gospel music, the first book (to my knowledge) to focus on its lens exclusively on the multi-faceted gospel scene of today. Pollard's book is an important companion for gospel music historians, announcers, and enthusiasts who want to better understand the connection between today's gospel music and its antecedents. In other words, the link between the artistry of Thomas Dorsey and Tye Tribbett is stronger than one might think."

– The Black Gospel Blog

A major strength of When the Church Becomes Your Party is its accessibility to historical and cultural information in a format that easily engages not only scholars but laypersons. A volume of vibrant anecdotes and vivid photos balances the scholarly notes and documentation to tell a fascinating story of gospel music in a book that deserves a wide reading audience."

– American Music

Although some may find this book controversial in places, it is a work of serious scholarship, complete with an extensive discography and bibliography, a good number of personal interviews, and outlines of service formats with emphasis on Detroit venues."

– Choice

As both a long-time, award-winning gospel announcer and a university-trained scholar, Pollard is uniquely positioned to offer this book to a loyal audience of listeners who are interested in what she has to say.

– Teresa Reed, associate professor of music at the University of Tulsa

This is unlike any other book about gospel music I've read. The fact that it is so readable and fascinating is probably due to the background of author Deborah Smith Pollard. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in music, religion, or African American culture."

– AfroAmerican Heritage

Doctor Deb (as she is affectionately called) has taken us beyond the platform and into the art form. This is a must-read for all those who love and are inquisitive about the various avenues in the genre of gospel music. Although you might not agree with the summations, you must respect the research. Thanks Deborah, for opening our eyes!"

– Pastor Marvin L. Winans, Perfecting Church, Detroit

There is no doubt that 'today's gospel is not your mother's gospel' so we should be thankful that we have Deborah Smith Pollard's When the Church Becomes Your Party to serve as our interpreter. From the contemporary sound that is sometimes indistinguishable from R&B, presented in attire that equals that of the latest secular artist, and often coupled with holy hip hop, today's gospel is urban and commercial. Yet the message-Jesus is lord-is still loud and clear. In entertaining yet scholarly writing, Pollard tells us how, when, why, and where these changes took place and gives us some indication of how the changes are being received in the Black Church community."

– Horace Clarence Boyer, author of The Golden Age of Gospel

This engaging book explores the history of African American gospel music over the past forty years, but primarily over the past two decades, and focuses especially, although not exclusively, on Detroit. Overall, this book is engagingly written and is important for anyone who wishes to understand contemporary developments in gospel music."

– Journal of American Ethnic History

  • 2009 Michigan Notable Book Awards - Result: 1 of 20 selected annually
  • 2009 Michigan Notable Book Awards - Result: 1 of 20 selected annually