Gospel Codes and Sacred-Secular Binaries

27 February 2024, 4.30 PM - 27 February 2024, 6.00 PM

Victoria’s Room

Speaker: Matthew Williams

(Hosted jointly with the Centre for Black Humanities)

For decades gospel music stylisation has been a significant influence on pop music. Artists from Aretha Franklin to Beyoncé have acknowledged the centrality of gospel to their musical development. In the UK, performers from the Rolling Stones to Stormzy have drawn on the influence of gospel music. In this paper, Matthew will present concepts from his in-progress monograph (OUP) tentatively titled Gospel-Pop Crossovers. Through a concept he calls ‘gospel codes’, Matthew will examine elements of the gospel sound as heard in popular music. Despite the decreased commitment to organised religion in the UK, gospel stylisation continues to appear in popular music with its accompanying religious connotations. What (if anything) does this mean in a secular age? Matthew’s work explores this question.


Dr Matthew Williams joined the University of York in September 2022 as a Lecturer in Music at the School of Arts and Creative Technologies. He obtained his PhD in music from the University of Bristol. Matthew is interested in secularisation, popular music and religion; his current work utilises semiotics to examine meaning-making in gospel-pop crossovers. He is currently working on a monograph under contract with OUP related to his thesis topic.

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