Gospel music in Sweden
A personal note by Ulf Sandberg, October 2003
I found a newspaper note, as well as some advertisements, from around 1890, which stated that the Fisk Jubilee Singers made a tour in Sweden and their concerts were regarded as a great success.
Probably in 1963, Mahalia Jackson gave at least one concert in Stockholm, which was an enormous success (as everywhere). I was just a teenager then living far from Stockholm, but if I could relive my life, I would do absolutely anything to attend that concert. It is my life's great mistake that I did not do this.
However, I was able to listen to the first US gospel choir that visited Sweden (as far as I know). This was in 1966 and it was the First Church of Deliverance in Chicago, headed by its musical director Uncle Ralph (GoodPasteur). One of the soloists was Mrs Sally Martin. I am so happy that I have been able to see and hear Mrs Martin, since it gives me some kind of link to the roots of gospel music. By the way, 30 years later I had the opportunity to visit this historical church in Chicago and to meet Uncle Ralph personally (but Mrs Martin was then no longer among us and Uncle Ralph passed away a couple of years later) and since then I have attended church service there several times. Their choir is still incredibly good.
The visit by the First Church of Deliverance Choir sort of triggered gospel music choir singing in Sweden and in the past 30 years a great number of gospel choirs have emerged. At the moment we have 248 choirs listed as "gospel choirs" or at least having gospel music as part of their repertoire. However, sad to say there is only one group (that I am aware of) that sings gospel quartet music. In addition we have a couple of singers born in Sweden who often include gospel music in their programme. Finally, we have one American-born black singer who is very popular and well known who sings "real" gospel music as a soloist (Ms Cyndee Peters).
In general, and here I do not refer to gospel music, music is very important in Swedish social life as well as commercially and we have a very good education in music. Choral singing is very popular, perhaps even comparable to countries like Estonia and Wales and I would guess that perhaps each 10th person or so is active in a choir. Many Swedish choirs are world class. About 15-20 % of the population performs some kind of music in an organized way. It has been calculated that despite our population of only 9 million, Sweden is the THIRD greatest exporter of recorded popular music in the world, second only to USA and the U.K. Think of groups such as ABBA, Roxette, Cardigans, etc.
Gospel music in Sweden is almost entirely choral singing. The choirs are dominated by young people who seem to prefer contemporary gospel songs and arrangements although they often sing a few spirituals also. You can see a photo of one of the best choirs below (click thumbnail to get large photo).
My view of the quality is that many choirs are technically very skilled. However, most of the members lack the real feeling – the soul in gospel music. Quite a few are not even Believers. As for other white people, with very few exceptions, we do not have the “soul voice” that the African-Americans have. Therefore, I consider Swedish gospel choral singing (in comparison to the black gospel practiced in North America) as lacking a few essential elements, albeit many choirs are indeed very skilled and do receive respected reactions when they perform in the United States.
The people who are interested to listen to gospel music here are predominantly young; and/or having a high level of education, and mostly living in urban areas. When some groups or choirs from the US give concerts in Sweden, the number of visitors is mostly very satisfactory, even though they do not usually perform in large halls.
There are a number of annual gospel festivals (five that I know of). By far the most important is the Stockholm Gospel Choir Festival that takes place in May each year in Stockholm. You can read about the event in 2004 on the web site http://www.stockholmgospel.nu/english.html
For this festival they invite each year one choir from the US, including somebody who can educate the Swedish singers in workshops etc.
Radio and TV stations
First, I must tell you that unfortunately Sweden is one of the most secularized countries in the world. The number of "active Christians" is rather small and not many are going to church on Sundays. In the major cities there is usually one or a couple of Christian radio stations. They sometimes play gospel music. The number of listeners is generally quite small. I am not aware of any radio or TV station in Sweden that plays predominantly gospel music. I do not think that there is much point in trying to get the radio stations play a certain record or a certain choir or artist.
However, the young people who are interested in gospel music are likely to check the major gospel music web sites now and then. Therefore, I think that some exposure on such web sites may be useful. The major gospel web site in Sweden is www.gospel.nu That one is really good and has a lot of contents.
Organization of gospel music concert tours
I can recommend to contact Mr Jonas Engstrom at email@example.com