Rock, hip-hop, and country all have their music channels. Now so does gospel music. The Gospel Music Channel debuted last fall and is now on cable TV in 60 markets.
The term "gospel music" for some people is restricted to the soulful music of the black church, with its great artists like Mahalia Jackson and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Others think of southern quartets like the Jordanaires and the Blackwood Brothers. But there are also reggae gospel, bluegrass gospel, roots gospel, Latin gospel, and other styles. Contemporary Christian Music is also classified as "gospel music." The Gospel Music Channel tries to represent them all.
The 24-hour channel carries concerts, studio sessions, and vintage programming. "Faith & Fame" focuses on the biographies of gospel stars. "Represent" spotlights new artists. All of the industry's award shows-CCM's Dove Awards, black gospel's Stellar Awards, the Christian Country Music Awards-can now be on TV. Coming up this fall is "Gospel Dream," a nation-wide talent contest modeled after "American Idol." Much of the programming consists of music videos, as pioneered by MTV, though of course the imagery is wholesome.
Some viewers might bridle at so much imitation of the pop culture, but listening to the older stuff reminds us that pop music once imitated gospel. Without Mahalia Jackson there would be no Aretha Franklin, and without the Southern gospel harmonies and rhythms there would be no Elvis Presley. (The Jordanaires even became Elvis' backup group.)
And it is good to have a channel that reruns classic performances, such as Ray Charles' Christmas special, Hank Williams singing his composition "I Saw the Light," and Ms. Jackson in choir robes singing out her faith.