Dr. Jessica Johnson: Gospel music can rejuvenate the soul

By Dr. Jessica Johnson - Guest Column

At the end of May, President Joe Biden issued his proclamation on Black Music Month for June. In it, he stated that “Black music has fueled a myriad of genres — from rhythm and blues to jazz, gospel, country, rap and more,” that it is “intricately woven into the tapestry of our nation” and that it has “conveyed the hopes and struggles of a resilient people.”

This is an eloquent description of the legacy of Black music in America, and when reflecting on the African-American struggle as “a resilient people,” gospel music was and still is one of the major forms of lyrical expressions of faith in the Athens, Georgia, community where I grew up.

As a child, I, along with many of my friends, was drawn to the anointed and dynamic melodies of the Georgia and Mississippi Mass Choirs and the Thompson Community Choir during the 1980s. You could say that I was sort of like a church elder during my youth listening to songs such as “Safe in His Arms” by the Thompson Community Choir. Directed by legendary gospel artist the Rev. Milton Brunson, “Safe in His Arms” was released in 1986, my junior year of high school, and it was my first time hearing the theme of the 23rd Psalm sung with such passion. Written for a soprano lead, the verse is as follows:

“Because the Lord is my shepherd/I have everything I need

He lets me rest in the meadow’s grass/And He leads me beside the quiet streams

He restores my failing health/And He helps me to do what honors Him the most

That’s why I’m safe/ that’s why I’m safe/that’s why I’m safe

Safe in His arms.”

Being only 16, I did not fully comprehend that Brunson was writing about the Good Shepherd who provides our needs and gives us peace and comfort during our most difficult trials, but hearing the choir sing about the security of resting in God’s arms genuinely moved me. The soloist who led this song at my hometown church sang with profound emotion, and I will never forget the older adults who cried and lifted their hands as the lyrics gave them strength to endure the trying situations they were facing. I truly understand their worship now.

My childhood friends and I often say that the ’80s was the best decade of gospel music. I will admit that we are probably a little biased because of the influence choir music had on our young lives in the church.

Today, many young people are into Christian groups like Maverick City, which recently collaborated with gospel icon Kirk Franklin on the album “Kingdom Book One.” The album will be released June 17, and one of the most inspirational features in the production of this project is that Maverick City ministered to prison inmates in Florida and included them in the background vocals. The first single, “Kingdom,” was recorded with male inmates at the Everglades Correctional Institution in Miami-Dade County. Watching the video on YouTube is a riveting experience.

Maverick singers Chandler Moore and Naomi Raine lead the Everglades choir, which is racially diverse with Black, white and Hispanic voices. Young and old men are singing their hearts out and praising God. “Kingdom” revolves around the Lord’s Prayer with the rousing chorus, “Thine is the Kingdom / The power, the glory / Forever and ever / He finished my story / We’re singing freedom / Our testimony / We’ll be singing forever, amen.”

This song has a powerful message for our times regarding what the Bible teaches about the kingdom of heaven. It reiterates that the kingdom is already here on earth through the joy of salvation in Christ. This is why Moore and Raine sing in the bridge that heaven “(looks) like me and you.”

Maverick City and Franklin kicked off their summer tour at the beginning of June and have 37 dates booked. Enthusiasm is high for their arrival throughout the country, and they will be playing before crowds from the West to the East Coast. As they step on the stage before packed arenas, I pray that the truth of what they are singing about in God’s word will bless people with the same hope and grace I felt over 30 years ago through choir ministry like the Rev. Brunson’s.

That’s gospel music at its best — when it rejuvenates the soul.


By Dr. Jessica Johnson

Guest Column

Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @JjSmojc. Her opinion does not necessarily represent the views of The Lima News or its owner, AIM Media.

Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @JjSmojc. Her opinion does not necessarily represent the views of The Lima News or its owner, AIM Media.

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