Gospel music has always been a part of bluegrass music and culture; Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, designed it that way. “It’s got Methodist, Baptist, and Holiness singing,” Monroe said of bluegrass, naming three Christian denominations with three then-distinct singing styles.
Anyone who has an inside knowledge of bluegrass can point to artists, past and present, whose sanctimonious public personas hardly match up to their hell-raising, sometimes addicted, sometimes downright mean private selves.
Some people would like to use that knowledge an excuse to jettison gospel music from bluegrass altogether. After all, if these artists are in such bondage to their socially-conservative culture, shouldn’t we free them — and non-Christian bluegrass fans in the process — from it?
Sure, if you think they’re so ignorant, culturally-unaware, and disempowered that they need you to come in and improve their culture — and, OMG, their whole lives <gasp!> — for them.
For those who are still in school learning about these things, that’s called cultural imperialism. It’s just as ugly when upper-middle class white Americans force it on working class, Appalachian southerners as when the American government forces it on, say, Native Americans.
That said, I’m going to start featuring a lot more bluegrass gospel music, right alongside the secular — Crap! I hate that word — songs. Doubtless that will irritate the living shit out of some of you.
I’m fine with that. Cultural imperialism? Not so much.
This is a very early recording of The Louvin Brothers, from a live, local radio show, with, “The Gospel Way”.