11 of the Best Gospel Vinyl Records
Southern gospel music is rooted in many of the genres of music we appreciate today. Many of music’s greatest artists started their careers singing in the choirs of their own congregations, and music lovers have been inspired throughout the decades by the impact of gospel style music in their everyday lives.
Whether you’re searching for a specific album to add to your vinyl record collection or are exploring this genre for the first time looking for a new form of praise, here are our picks for some of the best gospel music records, which can be found in our ever-growing vinyl record store.
Before being dubbed the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin started her career as a teenager singing gospel at her church in Detroit, Michigan. Songs of Faith: Aretha Franklin includes gospel songs recorded when she was just 14 years old. With restored audio and new cover art, this is the first vinyl reissuing of this LP.
Although her music career didn’t take off until she entered the mainstream sound of the time, much of her soulful sound comes from her days spent gospel singing in church. The nine-track album includes traditional gospel music, such as “Never Grow Old,” and songs written by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, including “Precious Lord (Part One and Two).” For fans of Aretha’s later work, going back to where she began is a good way to honor her broad range of talent and beginnings as a gospel artist.
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Freedom Highway was remixed and remastered into a double vinyl LP pressing. It features songs from a live concert recorded by The Staple Singers in 1965, supporting the historic civil rights marches from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama. The family singing group performed a mix of American gospel, soul, and R&B for their fans throughout their career, spanning from the late 1940s and into the mid-1990s.
When first released, Freedom Highway was an edited version of the New Nazareth Missionary Baptist Church service. Considered one of the best gospel music records of all time, it includes gospel hymns and fan favorites, such as “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “We Shall Overcome,” Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” and the title track, “Freedom Highway.”
Black gospel music artist Raymond Myles was revered in New Orleans as one the most prolific voices to contribute to the genre. The gospel singer’s vivacious personality and fashion sense made him memorable among audiences throughout the South and beyond. Well-known tracks from his gospel music album, Raymond Myles: New Orleans Gospel Genius include “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” “Sign Me Up,” and “I Know My Redeemer Lives.”
He started by playing his music in the gospel tent at the famed New Orleans Jazz Fest to eventually hit the main stage. A New York Times article referred to him as “a figure who dressed like Liberace and sang with echoes of R&B stars like Luther Vandross and Donny Hathaway.” Even following his death, the Raymond Anthony Myles Singers (RAMS) have continued his legacy and love for God.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe is considered one of the first recording artists to balance the sounds of gospel spirituals with the emerging riffs of rock-and-roll and rhythm and blues. It’s been said her music was an influence on artists, including Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley.
Her Rhythm ‘N’ Gospel album features songs including, “Up Above My Head,” which she also contributed to the American Epic soundtrack, “Trouble in Mind,” and “God’s Mighty Hand.”
Detroit is famously known as being the birthplace of Motown music. However, prior to the emergence of this popular sound, African American gospel group The Morning Echoes was hot on the scene. With demand for local gospel music, they had experienced success in Nashville as part of Nashboro Records and under the guidance of Rev. Dr. Morgan Babb of the gospel group, The Radio Four.
Led by singer Willie Slim Ayers, The Morning Echoes released their first record in 1951 and subsequently moved from Nashville to Detroit the following year. Their album, Echoes of Gospel, was originally released in 1967, mixing soul music with gospel-inspired songs, including “Jesus Showed Us the Way,” “Fire One Day,” and “I’ve Got Jesus.”
The collective voices that make up the Harlem Gospel Travelers span the reaches of New York City’s five boroughs and were brought together in the Black church culture in Harlem. He’s on Time is their first full-length album, featuring gospel songs like “Am I Doing Enough,” “On the Right Road,” and the title track, “He’s on Time.”
Each of the young gospel singers showcased their individual talent with the intention of singing praises to God and serving as uplifting music to all who wanted to hear. To develop their harmonies and create original music, the Harlem Gospel Travelers credit gospel groups, including The Soul Stirrers, The Violinaires, and The Swanee Quintet.
Speaking of The Violinaires, their album, Groovin’ with Jesus, epitomizes the unique gospel-funk sound that inspired so many artists following them. Founder Willie Banks and Robert Blair led the group, which had a rotation of singers through the years, as they released record after record.
Groovin’ with Jesus was released in 1971 under Geffen Records and combines a mix of spiritual and secular music that many gospel singers were delivering at the time. The music incorporated political messaging and a modern sound into more traditional hymns. Album tracks include “Let Us Pray,” “Let the Sunshine In,” and “Take Me.”
#8 Greg Belson's Divine Disco - Gospel Disco
Gospel/soul music artist Greg Belson transformed the traditional gospel hymn into a pulsating spiritual performance on his artist compilation album, Greg Belson’s Divine Disco. While, on its face, these two music genres don’t instinctively deliver a crossover opportunity, the funky sound of this album was aimed at a younger audience to share worship songs in a new way.
Songs and artists on the album include, “Faith is the Key” by Enlightenment, “Nowhere to Run” by the Gospelaires of Dayton, Ohio, and “No Greater Love,” by the Testimonial Singers. Echoing the energy of spiritual revivals, this vinyl album delivers a palpable feeling of being part of a live congregation, making it extra special for listeners. Part of the experience of hearing gospel music is being moved from the emotions being channeled from the singers who produce it.
#9 The Mercy River Boys - In the Arms of My Best Friend
The Mercy River Boys are known for their American Christian country songs, popular in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Their debut album, Breakout, was a Dove Award finalist for Album of the Year and was nominated for a Grammy Award. They first appealed to traditional gospel markets, but made the crossover to Christian country with their 1982 album, In the Arms of My Best Friend.
The gospel music record features hit songs “Would They Love Him Down in Shreveport Today” and “Mercy River,” in addition to the album’s title track. Their ability to blend traditional church sounds with mainstream country music led to success in both genres. And, in 2015, they were inducted into the Texas Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
#10 The Oak Ridge Boys - Boys Night Out
As another country “boy band” popular in the 1940s, all the way through to the 1970s, The Oak Ridge Boys made the seamless crossover from gospel to country music. They began their career as the Oak Ridge Quintet, known best for their gospel vocals and country rhythms. It wasn’t until the mid-’70s that they changed their focus to country music only. However, their album Boys Night Out reflects their combined sound.
Celebrating their decades-long success of singing soulful country, fans will recognize hits, such as “Thank God for Kids,” “You’re the One,” and “American Made.” Though not a purely gospel music album, it’s easy to pick up on the heavy influence that church music had on their sound and musical legacy.
#11 Kanye West - Jesus Is King
A somewhat surprising artist in the gospel music genre is rapper Kanye West. With his ninth studio album, Jesus Is King, he follows a Christian theme throughout his lyrics and music, with songs like “Follow God,” “On God,” and “Selah.”
Through his Sunday Service performances and reinvention throughout the past few years, West has emerged with a soulful sound that echoes the traditions of African American Christian cultures and churches. He takes a modern approach that’s individualized based on his creative vision and creates gospel music that’s personally reflective of him and his experiences.
Its clear gospel music is reflected in many of the popular sounds in music today, some more subtle than others. With a number of artists getting their start in their hometown church choirs, it makes sense that Christian sounds and lyrics are woven throughout different genres of music that have evolved over the years.
By being able to preserve these impactful eras of music through records, the influence of these great artists gets to live on from generation to generation. Discover more gospel records here at VIctrola.