Top 25 Gospel Songs of the Last Two Centuries

Emma DavisUncategorized 2 Comments

What makes a great worship song? Is it the lyrics? The music? Or a combination of both? A great gospel song has impacted people in a meaningful way. Gospel music has a rich and long history. I’m sure you have your favorites just like us.

Whether it’s old gospel songs like “Amazing Grace” or newer gospel songs from Chris Tomlin or Kari Jobe, each one is special. Let’s take a look at some of the best gospel songs from the last 2 centuries!

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

What is Gospel Music?

Gospel music is a sub-genre of Christian music that originated in the 18th-century America. The primary characteristic of gospel music is that it features dominant vocals with Christian lyrics, often mentioning Bible verses or other Biblical references.

Gospel music today largely owes its continued success to Black and Southern gospel music, which emerged the early 20th century and has changed over time to even include rap and hip/hop. Artists like Kanye West have recorded their versions of gospel music. Drawing on African-American tradition, Black gospel music is often the dominant mode of worship in Black and Pentecostal churches. This powerful genre of music has influenced some of the most famous artists of all time, including Elvis, Aretha Franklin, and Prince.  

1800’s Gospel Songs

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

This beautiful song is an African-American spiritual song and one of the best-known Christian hymns. The date it was composed is unknown as it originates in early oral and musical African-American traditions. Performances by the Hampton Singers and the Fisk Jubilee Singers brought the song to the attention of wider audiences in the late 19th century. J. B. T. Marsh includes an early version of text and tune in his 1876 publication The Story of the Jubilee Singers, with Their Songs. The earliest known recording of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” was recorded in 1894, by the Standard Quartette.

“The Solid Rock” by Edward Mote

“The Solid Rock” is a Christian hymn written by Edward Mote, a pastor at Rehoboth Baptist Church in Horsham, West Sussex. Edward Mote wrote nearly 100 hymns and this was his most popular, written in 1834.

“Blessed Assurance” by Fanny Crosby

The hymn appeared in the July 1873 issue of Palmer’s Guide to Holiness and Revival Miscellany, a magazine printed by Dr. and Mrs. W. C. Palmer of 14 Bible House, New York City. It is not certain that this was the first printing of the hymn, but it certainly helped to popularize what became one of the most beloved hymns of all time.

“It Is Well with My Soul” by Horatio G. Spafford

Also known as “When Peace, Like A River”, is a hymn penned by writer Horatio Spafford and composed by Philip Bliss. First published in Gospel Hymns No. 2 by Ira Sankey and Bliss in 1876, it is considered one of the most influential and enduring in the Bliss repertoire and is often taken as a choral model, appearing in hymnals of a wide variety of Christian fellowships.

1900’s-1970’s Gospel Songs

Amazing Grace sung by Ray Charles

This song is considered one of the most beloved hymns/spiritual songs of the past two centuries. The inspiring words and melody, describing profound religious joy, strike a chord around the world, and “Amazing Grace” is estimated to have appeared on more than 11,000 albums, including one featuring a version by Ray Charles with the London Symphony Orchestra. There are also terrific versions by Elvis Presley, Diana Ross, and Willie Nelson.

It was originally written as a poem in 1779 by John Newton.

When The Saints Go Marching In sung by Sidney Bechet

This celebrated and feel-good song became something of a jazz-gospel standard after Louis Armstrong’s impressive 1938 version. However, “When The Saints Go Marching In” also features in a brilliant instrumental version by the New Orleans legend Sidney Bechet.

Wing of a Dove by Ferlin Husky

Written by Bob Ferguson in 1958, it rose to popularity after being sung by Ferlin Husky. The song alludes to a passage from the Bible about God sending Noah a dove during the flood in Genesis 8:6-12. The title is inspired from Psalms 55:7 (“wings like a dove”).

In the Garden sung by Elvis Presley

In the Garden is a beautiful gospel song written by American songwriter C. Austin Miles. Among many famous singers, Elvis Presley sung and recorded his own version of this song. Elvis is mostly known for his popular secular music, but he loved gospel songs and often recorded many.

“I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.”

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Chisholm

Thomas O. Chisholm wrote the poem in 1923 about God’s faithfulness over his lifetime. Chisholm sent the song to a friend, William Runyan in Kansas, who is affiliated with both the Moody Bible Institute and Hope Publishing Company. Runyan set the poem to music, and it then was published that same year by Hope Publishing Company and became popular among church groups. The Biblical lyrics reference Lamentations 3:22-23.

How Great Thou Art sung by Carrie Underwood

This song, sung by many other famous artists, is written as a hymn by Swedish poet Carl Gustav Bobert in the late 19th century. Its theme of admiring God’s greatness made it a popular song worldwide.

Peace in the Valley by Thomas A. Dorsey

Originally titled “There’ll Be Peace in the Valley for Me,” Thomas A. Dorsey wrote this song for gospel music star Mahalia Jackson. Meanwhile, Elvis Presley further cemented its status as one of the greatest gospel songs of all time after performing it in front of over 50 million viewers on The Ed Sullivan Show.

I’ll Fly Away sung by The Kossoy Sisters

Written by noted gospel songwriter Albert E Brumley, “I’ll Fly Away” was recorded by identical twins The Kossoy Sisters in 1956. A popular version by Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss was later used by the Coen Brothers in O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

Mahalia Jackson: He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

Mahalia Jackson, a singer with one of the most beautiful voices in this history of gospel music, gave her all to this song in 1927. Her moving version even reached the 1958 Billboard charts, a strong showing for a gospel single at the time.

This song is often sung in children’s ministry services, as the lyrics are simple and repeat. It’s a beautiful song for all ages to remember that God has us in the palm of his hands.

“He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got the whole wide world in his hands.”

What A Friend We Have sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford

This gospel song, written by the influential gospel composer Thomas Andrew Dorsey, has been covered by numerous leading musicians, including Little Richard and Elvis Presley. In 1960, country music singer Tennessee Ernie Ford had a hit with it for Capitol Records.

Oh, Happy Day sung by Edwin Hawkins Singers

“Oh Happy Day” is a 1967 gospel arrangement of an 18th-century hymn, and it’s another of very few songs to reach the mainstream charts. The version by Edwin Hawkins Singers reached No.4 on the US singles charts, No.2 in Britain and Ireland, and was No.1 in France and Germany. The band won a Grammy for best soul gospel performance in 1970.

Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel

This modern classic is written by Paul Simon and recorded in 1970 by the acclaimed duo. Thereafter, a year later, Aretha Franklin noted its potential to stand alongside some of the best gospel songs of all time, and released a more overtly gospel version. Their album Bridge Over Troubled Water topped the charts in over ten countries and received six Grammy Awards at the 1971 Grammy Awards, including the Album of the Year. The album has sold over 25 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time and at the time of its release, the best-selling album ever.

Van Morrison: Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Van Morrison, who wrote his own gospel song called “(Lord) If I Ever Needed Someone” in 1967, included two gospel hymns on his 1991 album Hymns to the Silence. As well as “Be Thou My Vision,” the Belfast-born musician recorded a powerful version of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”.

1980’s-2000’s Gospel Songs

Is My Living in Vain by The Clark Sisters

The Clark Sisters are an American gospel vocal group originally consisting of five sisters: Jacky Clark Chisholm, Denise “Niecy” Clark-Bradford, Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark, Dorinda Clark-Cole, and Karen Clark Sheard. The Clark Sisters are the daughters of gospel musician and choral director Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. They’re credited for helping bring gospel music to the mainstream and are considered pioneers of contemporary gospel.

The lyrics represent a series of rhetorical questions asking if the singers’ actions are in vain. Each sister sings a line of the song, vocally declaring that their dedication to Christ is not a useless effort.

God, You’re So Good by Passion & Travis Greene

Undeniably a beautiful song, Travis Greene recorded a moving live version of “God, You’re So Good” with gospel vocal group Passion, led by Kristian Stanfill, at Passion City Church in Atlanta in 2018.

“Amazing love
That welcomes me
The kindness of mercy
That bought with blood, wholeheartedly
My soul undeserving”

Because He Lives by Bill and Gloria Gaither

“Because He Lives” is one of the most loved and frequently sung songs written by Bill & Gloria Gaither. Originally used by the Gaither Trio and other southern gospel groups, the song became popular for use in local church congregations and choirs.

The Old Rugged Cross by Alan Jackson

This early 20th century hymn is covered by many soul, jazz, and country singers over the years. It was first released by Jackson on the 2006 album, Precious Memories, a record that saw Jackson exploring his love of gospel.

How Great is Our God by Chris Tomlin

As of November 2014, it was the fifth most popular worship song, according to CCLI’s top 25 worship songs chart. It also reached No. 1 on Christian Music Weekly’s 20 The Countdown Magazine’s Top 20 Worship Songs Chart. The song won Song of the Year and Worship Song of the Year at the 2006 GMA Dove Awards, and Worship Song of the Year again at the 2008 GMA Dove Awards.

Revelation Song sung by Phillips, Craig, and Dean

This song is written by Jennie Lee Riddle with lyrics adapted from Revelation 4 of the New Testament. Revelation Song later released by contemporary Christian group Phillips, Craig and Dean on May 5, 2009 as the lead single from their album Fearless. Their version quickly gained popularity, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart in August 2009.

Matt Redman – 10,000 Reasons

The song is a contemporary version, making the case for “10,000 reasons for my heart to find” to praise God. The inspiration for the song came from the opening verse of Psalm 103: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name”. The song uses the attributes: God’s holiness, lovingkindness, slowness to anger, kind heart, His goodness and His great name.

The Blessing by Kari Jobe

In an interview Kari did with Bob Goff, Kari describes the power of declaring God’s promises over her family, herself, and the fear and disappointment that had weighed her down. The experience of her son falling into the lake ignited a passion to pray God’s blessings over her children, and it is what brings her hit song, “The Blessing,” to life.

Among so many wonderful and moving gospel songs, there are classic gospel songs we sing every year during Christmas. Some of the most covered and recorded songs by gospel artists as well as secular artists are these hymns.

  • “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts
  • “O Come, All Ye Faithful” by John Francis Wade
  • Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts
  • “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam and Placide Cappeau
  • “Silent Night” by Joseph Mohr
  • “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by Charles Wesley
  • “Angels We Have Heard on High” by Andrea Bocelli


Did your favorite gospel song make it into this list? There are hundreds of amazing and beautiful gospel songs, too many to count even! Certainly, music touches the soul and has for centuries and will continue to do so for many years to come.

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Comments 2

  1. I love all The Gospel Music I am praying God uses me to Sing & play guitar wherever Thanks for your songs and efforts Love Ann💝

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