Music Now is an informal forum series for Brown’s community of composers as well as students and faculty interested in contemporary music. These talks are free and open to the public. This week’s guest is our Brown University colleague, Charrise Barron, Presidential Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow, CSREA, Department of Religious Studies, and Department of Africana Studies.
“Sexy for Jesus: Contemporary Gospel Performance”
Gospel music has always been known for blending popular music with lyrics espousing the Christian faith. Consequently, it is to be expected that contemporary gospel artists would incorporate hip-hop music forms in their repertoires. Yet, in recent decades, many contemporary gospel artists have committed themselves to not only incorporating hip-hop sounds, but also presenting themselves as desirable and even sexy, by the standards of hip-hop culture. Consequently, through their attire, musical choices, and abandonment of traditional sacred/secular binaries, gospel artists present themselves as accessible to audiences beyond black Protestant churchgoers. By exploring the work of award-winning gospel duo Mary Mary, this presentation will show that gospel artists’ “sexy-for-Jesus” inclination not only signals the gospel music industry’s evangelistic emphasis on crossing over to mainstream markets, but also reflects theological shifts among black Christians in America.
About Charisse Barron
Charrise Barron is a Presidential Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Religious Studies, the Department of Africana Studies, and the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA) at Brown University. While her research, writing, and presentations have explored a range of topics in African American religion, music, and history, her current book project centers on contemporary gospel music. This work illuminates the marked shifts away from previous eras of gospel performance and culture which have defined the last twenty-five years of the genre.
Dr. Barron received her PhD in African and African American Studies, with a secondary field of study in ethnomusicology, from Harvard University. She also holds a Master of Divinity summa cum laude from Yale Divinity School, where she was also a student in Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music (ISM). Dr. Barron has taught religion and music courses at Yale University and Colorado College. She has guest lectured on African American history, religion, and black popular music for several Harvard University courses, and she has lectured on gospel at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. She is a Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) Doctoral Fellowship alumna and a member of the Harvard University Society of Horizons Scholars.