Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

In an article on Christian art at Ignitum Today , my colleague Anna Williams commends to her readers the band Scythian , a celtic-inflected group that treats religious themes.

Now, I have nothing against Scythian, but there’s a lot of music—-even of music with religious themes—-that I’d recommend first (and I bet the fellows at Scythian would, too).

So here below the fold are fifty essential religious songs—-old spirituals, rap, gospel—-listed in no particular order. Readers, what songs did I miss?

1. Million Dollar Quartet, “Down by the Riverside”

2. Aretha Franklin, “Are You Sure?”

3. Hank Williams, “I Saw the Light”

4. Staple Singers, “Uncloudy Day”

5. Carter Family, “God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign”

6. Pilgrim Travellers, “Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb”

7. Staple Singers, “Swing Down Chariot”

8. Dorothy Love Coates & the Original Gospel Harmonettes, “99 1/2”

9. Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers, “Were You There?”

10. Rev. Louis Overstreet, “Soldier in the Army of the Lord”

11. Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers, “Nearer to Thee”

12. Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers, “Jesus Gave Me Water”

13. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “Didn’t It Rain”

14. Skylarks, “Roll, Jordan, Roll”

15. Odetta & Larry, “Whole World in His Hands”

16. Impressions, “People Get Ready”

17. Loretta Lynn, “God Makes No Mistakes”

18. Joan Baez,  ”Virgin Mary Had One Son”

19. Jones Brothers, “Amazing Grace”

20. Staple Singers, “My Main Man”

21. Staple Singers, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

22. Charioteers, “All God’s Chillun’ Got Shoes”

23. Woody Guthrie, “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel”

24. Marylin Scott, “The Lord’s Gospel Train”

25. Josh White, “Four and Twenty Elders”

26. Charioteers, “Wade in the Water”

27. Earl Scruggs Revue with Johnny Cash, “Gospel Ship”

28. Staple Singers, “Tellin’ Lies”

29. Carter Family, “On the Rock Where Moses Stood”

30. Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, “Antioch”

31. Hank Williams, “Angel of Death”

32. Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, “Calvary”

33. Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn”

34. Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, “Present Joys”

35. Pilgrim Travellers, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”

36. Hank Williams, “House of Gold” (cover)

37. Otis Redding, “Amen”

38. Dorothy Love Coates & the Original Gospel Harmonettes, “That’s Enough”

39. R.L. Burnside, “Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down”

40. Sensational Nightingales, “At the Meeting”

41. Swan Silvertones, “Pass Me Not”

42. Angelic Gospel Singers & Dixie Humming Birds, “One Day”

43. Dixie Humming Birds, “I’ve Got So Much to Shout About”

44. Five Blind Boys of Alabama, “Too Close to Heaven”

45. Marvin Gaye, “God Is Love”

46. Charley Pride, “I’ll Fly Away”

47. Kanye West, “Jesus Walks”

48. Al Green, “Jesus is Waiting”

49. Trammps, “Pray All You Sinners”

50.  Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers, “Touch the Hem of His Garment”

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles