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date: 18 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter traces the historical roots of gospel music and emphasizes myriad contributions made by black queer individuals throughout the genre’s history, including popular gospel music performers such as Rosetta Tharpe, James Cleveland, Clara Ward, and Sylvester. It also includes the voices of queer church members drawn from oral histories. In doing so, it sheds light on a willfully neglected aspect of the history of gospel music. Further, exposing gospel’s connection to blues and jazz, the discussion illustrates the connection between sacred and secular music. Closely reading how these singers use performance, it demonstrates how these individuals negotiated their sexuality and gender identity within the black church—a space known for its disavowal of sin, especially homosexuality—in covert or tacit ways that enabled them to maintain their credibility and influence while also authentically engaging both their sexuality and spirituality.

Keywords: gospel music, sexuality, spirituality, performance, oral history, queer

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