Segregation in Christian Music

Motown didn’t just change music – it changed America.

photo credit: Soul Portrait via photopin cc

Founder Berry Gordy was a trailblazer. He redefined pop music, and introduced us to artists like Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5 and many others. But more importantly, he tore down the color barrier in American music. Through his groundbreaking work, African American artists achieved unprecedented success across racial lines. Ultimately, he brought black and white Americans together under the banner of music. Since the 1960’s, secular radio stations have played artists of all races without a second thought.

Here we are. More than fifty years later. And Christian music continues to be dramatically divided along racial lines.

You see, followers of Jesus have created two separate categories of music: Gospel and Contemporary Christian. Why? There’s likely a number of explanations that could be given. But all of them are ultimately excuses. No matter how you look at it – Christian radio is completely segregated.

There are certainly some Contemporary Christian songs that are a bit too edgy for mainstream radio airplay. The same truth would apply to Gospel music. However, secular radio stations have already worked this out. They’ve created separate radio stations to meet the demands of a particular musical niche. But almost every major city in America has at least one radio station that plays popular music without consideration to style. You’ll hear pop, modern country, hip hop, rap and more on one radio station. If it’s popular, it’s played. Period.

Sadly, this isn’t the case in Christian music. Generally speaking, white and black Christian artists can’t be heard on the same radio stations. And this doesn’t reflect well on the church.

Program directors at mainstream Christian radio stations need to learn from the precedent set by Berry Gordy more than fifty years ago. Clearly, there are some artists that are too edgy for mainstream airplay. So don’t play them. But there’s a long list of Gospel and Contemporary Christian artists that can and should be heard on the same radio stations.

Change is hard. It’s also scary. Particularly for listener supported radio stations. But my vision for Christian radio would be that we boldly reflect the beautiful diversity of God’s Kingdom.

Let’s tear down the color barrier in Christian music.

9 thoughts on “Segregation in Christian Music

  1. Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve noticed it for years, and I HATE it. It’s funny how secular music can be unified, and have programs where all genres are played. However when it comes to the Church, there’s this massive division. I hope and pray this will change. Until then, I’ll keep my playlist.

  2. I thought I was the only one who noticed this divisive practice. Years ago I called a ‘Christian’ radio station in NJ to request an Andrae Crouch song. The person who answered said she had never heard the name and was sure they didn’t have his music.

    A few months later when I received a letter from this “positive music” station soliciting funds I wrote back telling them I’ll send it when I hear music from ‘black’ artistes.

    It’s the same station that plays more Deck the Halls and Frosty the Snowman sort of music during the Christmas season so as not to offend anyone, they said, when I asked about it.

    That radio stations which rely on public funds can continue to marginalize and divide must make Jesus puke. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh at these masqueraders who take His Name in vain.

  3. Hi Brian, I know this is an old post but unfortunately not much has changed in the year since you wrote it. We now have for radio stations in Dallas, KCBI, KLTY, Air 1 and another new one I can’t remember but the ALL play contemporary Christian music but no gospel. Even artist who make similar sounding music aren’t heard if they happen to be non white with the exception of a select few (Mandisa, Jamie Grace who I’m sure people think is white, and Nicole Mullins). It’s very frustrating and sad that I have to go to satellite radio instead of a local radio station to hear gospel music. I too have resorted to making my own playlist on Pandora to get the mixture of gospel and contemporary Christian music I crave and which we’ll surely hear when we are all finally together praising and worshipping the One to whom the music is centered upon.

  4. It’s almost 2020 and there is still the divide in Christian music. This categorical rift reflects the heart of the contemporary church. Just look at the churches on Sundays. Apparently 80% are of one race in Sundays. I commit to praying about this instead of complaining my heart every time I notice this, which means I’ll be praying tons! Please join me!!

  5. Not only is it divided into “white” and “black” music, but the contemporary Christian music all sounds EXACTLY the same. In fact, they are still playing the same songs from 20 years ago. Like the same five artists put something out and nothing new has some along. Really?! I have to be missing something. There are people who love to produce all types of music. Does anyone know of an underground source for upbeat and diverse Christian music?

  6. I’ve been listening to kcbi for while now and while I was listening today, I felt like giving a crazy praise to God and that was when I realized I’ve never heard any songs from black artistes on the station. It’s sad.

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