Is Secular Music Off-Limits for Christians?

Is Secular Music Off-Limits for Christians?

It’s officially summer, and that means music festival season is well under way. All across the nation, music fans are clamoring for tickets to concerts and festivals to see their favorite artists in person. This year alone fans have been filling stadiums to get in “Formation,” kicking it with Drake “all summer ‘16,” or booking flights for Made in America, and many of them are self-professed Christians. Is it wrong to love God and know the words to all of Beyonce’s “Lemonade” too?

The secular music debate isn’t a new one, and it’s not going away anytime soon. I remember missing most of the ‘90s boy band craze because I grew up listening to Gospel and Contemporary Christian music.

As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more apparent that many genres of music can be beautiful and encouraging while some songs can have a negative effect on your spirit. We live in a society where some artists are “crossing over” to win a broader fan base and bring people to Christ, including Erica Campbell’s attempt at “trap gospel” with her chart-topping single “I Luh God.” However, should all secular music be off-limits?

Biblical Views

We know from the Bible that music is an important part of our Christian walk. It’s one of the many ways we can praise and thank God for His goodness. That’s probably why there’s basically an entire book (Psalms) dedicated to praise and worship! The first verses of Psalm 150 say it best:

“Praise the Lord!…Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with flute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!”

The Bible speaks at length about praising the Lord with song and how the angels rejoice and sing of His goodness. The Bible also hints that not every song is good: “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools (Ecc 7:5)”; “He put a new song in my mouth (Psalm 40:3)”; “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda (Prov 25:20).”

Nearly every time the Bible mentions music, it also includes the word “praise.” To praise is to express warm approval, or admiration of something, to show respect or gratitude, particularly in song.

When we sing about something, we are expressing some form of praise, and we must ask ourselves if what we are singing about is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and/or praiseworthy. Keep this in mind next time you’re trying to decide what songs to add to your playlist.

Remember that everything we let into our subconscious can impact our hearts toward God and our willingness to sin. It’s crucial to build strength against temptation by arming ourselves with God’s Word.

“It’s the little foxes that spoil the vine (Song of Solomon 2:15),” so what’s in our earbuds is important, regardless of genre. Here are a few perspectives from fellow Christians:

Real-Life Views

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and listening to secular music planted a lot of bad seeds in my heart and caused me to want to sin. Every song has a spirit attached to it and it’s a must that we guard our hearts. If you think about it, every secular song is either tempting you to have sex, giving you the urge to “turn up,” makes you want to curse someone out, kill someone, miss your ex, get sad and depressed, etc. I can’t listen to that music the minute I leave the church parking lot because it doesn’t glorify God. Personally, I have not listened to “Christian” music that [has] made a negative impact on me. I have been to several Christian concerts and when I leave I’m like “YAS! Let’s go evangelize!!!!” – Taliah, Georgia

Some of my favorite artists are Ne-Yo, Usher, Wale, J Cole, and Drake. I could [literally] write a thesis on that man. I can’t say if there’s one kind of secular music to listen to. Secular music is not for everyone. Some people desperately need gospel music or their respective spiritual jams to “shield” them from the external forces amongst us. For me, I know what feeds my spirit and what doesn’t. While I listen to majority gospel music, I have certain pockets of moments during my day when a certain album, song, or artist is needed to stimulate/relax my headspace. Not all music labeled “Christian” is good to listen to. Like anything else, everything in moderation. Music has agency. It’s an individual experience. – Myles R, Alabama

I listen to secular music because I’m a dancer and a writer; I like the sound and beats that I can dance to. I enjoy listening to current things because I like to be on top of things since I work with kids. I think music can be a form of entertainment. Who says that even praise and worship can’t be entertaining? I think the “more modern” Christian is someone who enjoys listening to secular music but still has a heart for Christ (Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book” is a good example). I consider things like the music and the message, so I don’t listen to everything. It is a constant battle between feeding our flesh and our Spirit, but if music isn’t something you struggle with, then I see no harm in listening to it. Everyone has different convictions. – Faith L., Chicago

Some secular music is really good, like songs about social issues, love, and politics. Even though the song may not be explicitly religious, if done in excellence and not vulgar, it can be quite enjoyable, even edifying. Secular music wasn’t allowed when I grew up, and although I hated it, it made sense. Back then, I just liked the beat. Some lyrics made me wince but were rarely enough to stop listening. There is music labeled Christian or Gospel that has nothing to do with Christ– it glorifies man and his desires, treating God as the means to acquire blessings & breakthroughs instead of worshipping. It’s not good to call it “Gospel” when the purpose is to entertain. The minute you attach Christ or The Gospel, the expectations of your music changes. Also, telling someone “Don’t smoke, don’t drink and don’t chase after wealth and fame” is great, but unless the context is turning from sin and honoring God, He gets no glory. When a gospel artist makes the switch to secular or what many call “good art” it’s not wrong, but it bothers me because I see it as a lesser choice. – Andwele W., Marketing Director for P4CM (The Passion for Christ Movement)

It’s clear there are different views on what role music plays in our lives and how it aligns with our faith. There are artists like Trip Lee who use contemporary, mainstream musical techniques to glorify God and more traditional artists that stick to the Gospel genre like the Winans. While there are others, such as Tori Kelly, who maintain their musical career while striving to live in God’s image, and, of course, the secular artists, such as the Black Eyed Peas, who make beautiful songs like “Where is the Love?”

The important thing is to constantly evaluate what we allow into our mental space, guard our hearts, and ask the Lord to keep our thoughts pure.

Let us know what you think about the topic and what artists you’re listening to this summer.

The 31st Annual Stellar Awards: Old School v. New School

The 31st Annual Stellar Awards: Old School v. New School

Stellar Awards ImageFor more than 30 years, the Stellar Gospel Music Awards has captivated viewers everywhere, and this year was no different. The 31st annual awards show was full of comedy—thanks to co-hosts Rickey Smiley and Sherry Shepherd—legendary guest appearances, and of course, music, while honoring some of the greatest gospel artists in the world. And while the entire show was entertaining from start to finish, continue reading for some of the highlights during the greatest night in gospel music:

The Year of the Fellas

The men of gospel definitely showed up and showed out last night with everything from eccentric attire (yeah, we see you, Charles Jenkins) to memorable performances by Brian Courtney Wilson, William McDowell, and the legendary Brat Pack, including Donald Lawrence, Hezekiah Walker, and Ricky Dillard. The trio took the stage to honor the late O’Landa Draper, who received the Allstate James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award for performing hits such as “Gotta Feelin’” and “My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord.” But the brightest star of the night was Anthony Brown, who took home a record-breaking 10 Stellar Awards, including Song of the Year and Artist of the Year!

A Night of Living Legends

We literally don’t know where to start while recapping an evening filled with some of the biggest names in gospel music! In addition to special appearances by Shirley Caesar and Bobby Jones, artists including Karen Clark Sheard and Donnie McClurkin also graced us with performances. For the second year in a row, some of our favorite gospel legends were also honored for their contribution to the genre. They included Jonathan Slocumb, Yolanda Adams, Marvin Sapp, and Tramaine Hawkins. And as if all of that wasn’t enough, Mr. Kirk Franklin rounded out the evening’s line-up with a finale performance of his latest hit, “Wanna Be Happy.”

New Sound, New Generation

Although the awards show was filled with gospel veterans, the Stellar rookies were definitely effective in making their presence known. Not only did newcomer Casey J. perform her smash hit “Fill Me Up God,” but the songbird was nominated for an astounding 11 Stellars and walked away with the New Artist of the Year award for “The Truth,” which reached #1 on the Billboard Gospel Charts! And as if we hadn’t seen enough, Travis Greene rocked the stage during a candid and heartfelt performance for his Stellar Awards debut.

Visit the official website of the Stellar Gospel Music Awards for a complete list of last night’s winners.


What were some of your favorite moments from the 2016 Stellar Awards? Share them below.


The Right Things for the Right Reasons

The Right Things for the Right Reasons


Photo Credit: Joost J. Bakker

by C.O. of IDOL King

27 years ago, Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing” exploded into theaters, taking a hard look at the racially charged atmosphere of a close-knit Brooklyn neighborhood that led to the tragic death of one of the main characters at the hands of police. In the current strained environment of urban cities across the country, it can seem as though life is imitating art. The question posed by the movie to those who were facing injustice was will you do nothing, or will you do the right thing?

As inequity of all forms appears to reign without restraint, the current generation is confronted with a similar challenge. But for most, the uncertainty doesn’t lie in whether or not they should do the right thing. Nearly all agree that you should do the right things, but does it have to be for the right reasons?

Pioneering Holy Hip Hop artist “C.O.”, best known for being the creative and founding force behind the trailblazing rap group IDOL King, contends that real influence produces transformed lives and not just trend followers. “This only happens when the motives behind the ‘right things’ we do are aligned with God’s intentions, or in other words, the right reasons,” he says.

Committed to creating rhymes that champion Christ as the answer to today’s societal ills, C.O. spells out a few of those right reasons:

CO Pic

Photo Courtesy of C.O.

Empower others to Recognize God’s Love is Tough Love

The truth hurts, but it also heals. The touchy-feely response of some members of the Body of Christ to injustice has too often produced a view of love that accommodates our prejudices rather than eliminates them. “God’s love absolutely comforts the afflicted, but it also afflicts the comfortable,” C.O. reminds. While it doesn’t feel great to personally confront racism, it must happen to prevent the church from being a weak and ineffective voice in the current struggle for dignity.

Equip Others to Be Diplomatic And Direct

A diplomat is someone who sensitively and effectively deals with situations based on valid information. If we are unaware of the full counsel of God’s word, including what He has to say about discrimination, we will only be capable of offering a partial solution. Real diplomacy occurs when we present Christ while directly confronting the often glossed over the sin of racism.

Encourage Others to Increase Biblical Convictions

What are our convictions based on? Is it God’s word, the stereotypes, and prejudices we were raised with, or what we see flashing on the nightly news? Thankfully, God’s word shines a light on our faulty assumptions. The gift of truth is right in front of us – and needs to be taught in our churches and reinforced by our artists. We can’t afford to plead ignorance to the damage that racism still causes.

It is right to stand up, it is right to insist on the freedom we are promised in Christ. But it becomes righteous when our reasoning matches the motives of God. Yes, let’s do the right thing, but let’s make sure it’s for the right reasons.

Check out C.O.’s latest lyric video “ZOMBIES” at 


To continue the conversation with Christian rap pioneer C.O., follow him on twitter @idolking1985 or connect with him on Facebook and Instagram.


Recap: 2016 Gospel Grammy Winners

Recap: 2016 Gospel Grammy Winners

Kirk Franklin and WifeThe 58th Grammy Awards were everything we expected filled with great music, interesting acceptance speeches (Taylor, we’re looking at you.), and phenomenal live performances. And in case you missed it, here’s a recap on which of your favorite gospel artists walked away with the highest honors during music’s biggest night of the year.

Gospel Album

“Destined to Win [Live],” Karen Clark Sheard
“Living It,” Dorinda Clark-Cole
“One Place Live,” Tasha Cobbs
“Covered: Alive in Asia [Live] (Deluxe),” Israel & Newbreed- WINNER
“Life Music: Stage Two,” Jonathan McReynolds

Gospel Performance/Song

“Worth [Live],” Anthony Brown and Group Therapy
“Wanna Be Happy?,” Kirk Franklin- WINNER
“Intentional,” Travis Greene
“How Awesome Is Our God [Live],” Israel and Newbreed featuring Yolanda Adams; Neville Diedericks, Israel Houghton and Meleasa Houghton, songwriters
“Worth Fighting For [Live],” Brian Courtney Wilson; Aaron Lindsey and Brian Courtney Wilson, songwriters

Contemporary Christian Music Album

“Whatever the Road,” Jason Crabb
“How Can It Be,” Lauren Daigle
“Saints and Sinners,” Matt Maher
“This Is Not a Test,” Tobymac- WINNER
“Love Ran Red,” Chris Tomlin

Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song

“Holy Spirit,” Francesca Battistelli- WINNER
“Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains),” Crowder; Ed Cash, David Crowder and Seth Philpott, songwriters
“Because He Lives (Amen),” Matt Maher
“Soul on Fire,” Third Day featuring All Sons & Daughters; Tai Anderson, Brenton Brown, David Carr, Mark Lee, Matt Maher and Mac Powell, songwriters
“Feel It,” Tobymac featuring Mr. Talkbox; Cary Barlowe, David Arthur Garcia and Toby McKeehan, songwriters

 Roots Gospel Album

“Still Rockin’ My Soul,” the Fairfield Four- WINNER
“Pray Now,” Karen Peck and New River
“Directions Home (Songs We Love, Songs You Know),” Point of Grace

The 30th Annual Stellar Awards: A Reminder That Gospel Music Matters

The 30th Annual Stellar Awards: A Reminder That Gospel Music Matters

From the outside looking in the Stellar Awards seems like any other awards show. Beautiful men and women dressed to the hilt, flashbulbs popping as talent stands statuesque and smiling, and anxious reporters fielding questions of both the mundane and profound nature. This is all par for the course during award show season. But where the Stellar Awards sets itself apart is when you are in the midst of it all and you feel the spirit hovering over the place where some of today’s most influential gospel singers come to celebrate God and be celebrated by their peers in the gospel music industry. Thanking Jesus is not just something these artists do when they step to the mic to accept their award; it is a way of life that they express through their artistry. This artistry, known as gospel music, has been celebrated by the Stellar Awards for 30 years.

Produced by Chicago-based Central City Productions, the first Stellar Awards show was taped at the Arie Crown Theatre in Chicago. Through the years, Central City Productions CEO Don Jackson and his team have taken the Stellars throughout the country from Los Angeles and Houston to Nashville and Atlanta, and this year marked their first time in Las Vegas. Las Vegas location aside, this year’s Stellars is special because it marks the 30th anniversary of the show that is a premiere platform for gospel artists.

“I think we open the door for black gospel artists,” says Erma Davis, President and COO of Central City Productions. “In the past, gospel artists were not really known that well because, in the secular world, you just see all of the stars and glamour. I think one of the things we did was to highlight [gospel artists] and really give them a platform so that they could show their ministry.”

Davis hits on something poignant regarding the way gospel music and artistry is acknowledged in the mainstream. Gospel artists are nominated and win at shows such as the Grammys, but they receive their awards off-camera and rarely are they given performance space at the same rate as their peers in mainstream popular music. Instead, how to mainstream acknowledges the Gospel and gospel influences is by giving viewers excerpts of the preceding culture through the broadcast of popular artists thanking God on stage and the sometimes testifyin’, sometimes signifiyin’ appearance of gospel choirs in popular artists’s Grammy Award performances. Other than that, gospel artists and their work are relegated to the peripheries of the mainstream. This is problematic because gospel music has more to do with their success than it doesn’t. Many artists, particularly popular African-American artists, started singing in the church or were influenced by gospel artists. Some artists receive vocal training from gospel music veterans. Some artists employ church musicians to play in their bands. Suffice to say, gospel music’s roots run deep but the mainstream won’t always tell that story. Furthermore, it stands to be said that R&B and Rap music are often exalted as the representative genres of black music in the mainstream, but we know that is only part of the story. The roots of many genres of black music can be traced back to gospel music. Gospel music matters.

“Gospel Music Matters As Black Lives Do.” Bobby Jones

We are in the era of “Black Lives Matter” the social justice movement started by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi on the heels of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2013. At every turn we have an opportunity to think about why black lives matter and what it means. A reflection on “Black Lives Matter” also constitutes a reflection on the components of black lives and how those parts re-affirm black identity and the value of black lives. We dare to reflect on the connection between “Black Lives Matter” and gospel music and how the latter reaffirms black identity in general and black Christian identity in particular to reiterate link between gospel music and social justice.

“Down through the years, when we didn’t have the right to vote, it was the gospel. It was the Dixie Hummingbirds, it was Clara Ward and other gospel singers who came on the strip first, taking the art form to another level,” said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. Gospel artist and their music were historically known for mobilizing some of our most influential leaders such as the way in which Mahalia Jackson’s music inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Even the Golden Globe and Oscar-winning song “Glory” has a gospel undertone that is unmistakable and is serving as the clarion call for many young social justice activists.

Gospel singer Tasha Cobbs also understands the connection between gospel music and social justice. Her 2013 hit, “Break Every Chain” is often used in churches in connection to different social justice causes. I’ve seen youth ministries utilize the song to speak out against bullying and last year, following the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, it was sung in a local Atlanta church as a rallying cry for justice for slain black men. When asked how she feels about her song’s usage for social justice causes Cobbs said that she was honored and that the song is about reminding people who there is power in the name of Jesus. “I don’t believe that you can break anything that is causing destruction and chaos without using the name of Jesus.” But she also called out the church as a necessary partner in reminding people of that power. “I believe it is bringing that pressure back on the church to step up and access the power that we have in the name of Jesus, and that ministry is going to help us overcome what we are going through now.” Gospel music matters and has power in and outside of the church

For the last 30 years the Stellar Awards have been a vehicle for transporting the genre of gospel music to even higher ground, bringing it more fully into the spotlight, and being an empowering force in the African-American community. The shows creators and all of the celebrated artists recognize and affirm the value of gospel music in bolstering black identity, especially as we continue to proclaim that “Black Lives Matter.” Black artistry plays a role in “Black Lives Matter,” particularly the artistry that has helped black people make meaning for their lives and that reaffirms the value of their lives through the Gospel. Outspoken “Preachers of L.A.” castmember and gospel artist Deitrick Haddon said it best when he said, “For gospel music in particular, we don’t have a lot of platforms that really display us in a classy, respectful way. So that’s why the Stellar Awards is the epitome of who we are and what we’re doing. We’ve gotta support the Stellar Awards.”

We hope that you’ll support the Stellar Awards when it airs April 5 on TVOne at 8PM EST. Please click here for more dates and airtimes.

Revisiting “The Gospel Sound” 40 Years Later

Revisiting “The Gospel Sound” 40 Years Later

When Beyoncé sang “Precious Lord” at the Grammy’s this year, numerous commenters declared that she had taken the awards show to Church. On my Twitter feed at least, those commenters were met with thorough skepticism. “I have been to church,” my Twitter feed said, “and Beyoncé at the Grammy’s is not it.”

thegospelsoundThe skepticism reminded me of Anthony Heilbut’s great book, The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times. First published in 1971; the paperback edition, with addendums, is 40 this year. Heilbut, a Jewish atheist, is a passionate advocate of the classic gospel sound, and a keen critic of the way it gets watered down for and by pop. He’d no doubt see Beyoncé as falling prey to the “gospel-gargle” — “the overly busy, annoyingly mannered style” that was common in gospel even in the 70s. “The excessive virtuosity defeats its own purposes,” Heilbut says, “whether of expressing spirit or asserting self.”

In contrast, Heilbut champions the older singers: Mahalia Jackson, of course, but also performers less familiar to the mainstream, like Sallie Martin, Dorothy Love Coates, R.H. Harris, Julius Cheeks, and Heilbut’s dear friend, Marion Williams. The Gospel Sound is about their artistry and how that artistry has been forgotten even as its created vast swaths of the pop landscape.

Many critics of Beyoncé’s Grammy performance argued that the mega-star had essentially stolen or usurped the performance of Ledisi, a less well-known soul singer who performed “Precious Lord” for the film Selma. That story — of gospel’s innovations being taken into the spotlight, while the original performers languish — is repeated theme throughout The Gospel Sound. “The white man robbed me all my life,” Heilbut quotes Dorothy Love Coates as saying, “and now the black man’s doing it. They all treat us like dogs and puppies, like we didn’t have no sense.”

R.H. Harris is almost forgotten today, but Heilbut argues that his falsetto trills, which Harris picked up by imitating birdsongs in his native Texas, “traveled from gospel to soul to the Beatles,” — showering money and mass popularity on everyone but Harris himself. Ira Tucker of the longtime quartet the Dixie Hummingbirds “anticipated all the frenetic workings of souls music;” Heilbut argues, and Tucker himself adds, “Shoot, what James Brown does, I’ve been doing.” Marion Williams gave Little Richard his “oooooo!”; Rosetta Tharpe taught Chuck Berry how to play guitar. Mahalia Jackson and the church taught Elvis to dance —originally, Heilbut recounts, “Some churches exiled [Mahalia] for her rocking beat, others for her “snake-hips.”

Jackson did of course enjoy great success. But she was only able to do so, Heilbut says, by abandoning her snake-hips for a less raucous performing style, and by sprinkling her real gospel songs with numbers from what Heilbut calls the “inspirational dung heap” like “Rusty Old Halo.” To take gospel to pop is to lose gospel; Beyoncé can’t take the Grammys to church without losing the church. For Heilbut, gospel is “simply the only music sung by people in terrible conditions about those conditions, in an attempt to get out of them.” In comparison, “rock and soul are for the children. Gospel, like blues and jazz, is the music of grown-ups.” Gospel is the real thing; the spirit inspiring American music — though that spirit is often abandoned, and its proponents and singers forgotten.

For Heilbut in The Gospel Sound, then, that gospel sound is authentic, pure, and simultaneously treasured, threatened, and disdained by the secular world. His book, though, also has a quiet counter-narrative, one perhaps less inimical to Beyoncé and what she was trying to do at the Grammys. Because, while Heilbut presents gospel as an origin, he also sees it as part of American music more generally.

Classic gospel didn’t spring out of nothing; on the contrary, its creators were very familiar with other contemporary styles, especially jazz and blues. Thomas Dorsey, the composer who wrote “Precious Lord,” started his career as Georgia Tom, a pianist who performed often off-color blues with Ma Rainey and others. Later, Dorsey occasionally preferred white country renditions of his songs to those of gospel performers. For their part, great gospel singers like Mahalia and Willie Mae Ford Smith were familiar with, and inspired by, great blues singers like Bessie Smith. Heilbut notes that Ira Tucker’s performances with the Dixie Hummingbirds often echoed jazz variations; Tucker himself says that B.B. King personally introduced him to the recordings of Django Reinhardt. R. H. Harris may claim that birdsong was his primary inspiration, but he also listened to Texas blues and hillbilly music. Sister Rosetta Tharpe recorded a rousing hillbilly boogie with country singer Red Foley — rockabilly before Elvis.

Heilbut is not entirely on board with some of the latter examples of musical cross-pollination — he sees the Staple Singers’ mix of blues guitar, quartet harmonies, and pop as “an appealing novelty, if not the stuff of gospel legends,” and seems a little regretful when talking about how the new (circa 1970) choirs “sing Motown tunes and Thelonius Monk chords.” But like it or not, there’s no getting around the fact that gospel and the wider world of music have never been mutually exclusive. Someone out there — James Brown, the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Johnny Cash (performing a Dorothy Love Coates tune) — is always taking pop to church. And, for its part, the church is always listening to jazz, blues, soul, and even rock for new ideas and new ways to worship. The Grammys certainly wasn’t the first time that Beyoncé went to gospel for material.

Heilbut’s goal in The Gospel Sound is to shine a light on a group of immensely talented singers and performers who are often erased from music history — to try to return gospel to its rightful place at the center of the story of American music. In doing that, he honors the music’s accomplishments, its uniqueness, and its difference, whether Sallie Martin’s quick jerk in performance as the spirit moves her or Marion Williams’ amazing run from deep voiced bass up to falsetto “ooooooh!” But returning gospel to American music also means revealing what’s not different about it — showing how it fits within a musical landscape where jazz and blues and soul, and country and pop and rock too, blur into each other at the edges, influencing each other and being influenced by each other. Beyoncé’s Grammy’s performance had a Vegas showbiz feel to it, it’s true — but, as Heilbut chronicles, Clara Ward and the Ward Singers were tearing up Vegas in sequins before Beyoncé was born. On television, at Vegas, at the Grammys, and in church too — the gospel sound is everywhere.