The Rise of Cross Songs

Songs about Heaven have always been a huge portion of the Southern Gospel repertoire. But while songs about the Cross have always been present, has their presence increased in recent decades?

I decided to turn to my collection of Southern Gospel songs to do some statistical analysis. The collection is deep enough to be representative of major recordings by major groups in each decade.

  • 1950s: 4 of 408 (1%) Southern Gospel tracks include Cross or Calvary in their title. Three were hymns or classics, leaving 1 (0.2%) as a new Cross/Calvary song.
  • 1960s: 79 of 3367 (2.3%) Southern Gospel tracks include Cross or Calvary in their title. Of these, 31 were hymns or classics, leaving 48 (1.4%) as new Cross/Calvary songs.
  • 1970s: 95 of 3902 (2.4%) Southern Gospel tracks include Cross or Calvary in their title. Of these, 34 were hymns or classics, leaving 61 (1.6%) as new Cross/Calvary songs.
  • 1980s: 38 of 2736 (1.4%) Southern Gospel tracks include Cross or Calvary in their title. Of these, 7 were hymns or classics, leaving 31 (1.1%) as new Cross/Calvary songs.
  • 1990s: 110 of 4407 (2.5%) Southern Gospel tracks include Cross or Calvary in their title. Of these, 22 were hymns or classics, leaving 88 (2.0%) as new Cross/Calvary songs.
  • 2000s: 209 of 8924 (2.3%) Southern Gospel tracks include Cross or Calvary in their title. Of these, 61 were hymns or classics, leaving 148 (1.7%) as new Cross/Calvary songs.
  • 2010s: 66 of 2847 (2.3%) Southern Gospel tracks include Cross or Calvary in their title. Of these, 22 were hymns or classics, leaving 44 (1.5%) as new Cross/Calvary songs.

Eliminate duplicates for a strictly numeric count of new Cross/Calvary songs recorded by a major group each decade:

  • 1950s: 1 new Cross/Calvary song
  • 1960s: 27 new Cross/Calvary songs
  • 1970s: 36 new Cross/Calvary songs
  • 1980s: 21 new Cross/Calvary songs
  • 1990s: 56 new Cross/Calvary songs
  • 2000s: 86 new Cross/Calvary songs
  • 2010s: 29 new Cross/Calvary songs

From the 1960s on, there has been a fairly steady ratio that 1 of every 40 songs in our genre mentions the Cross or Calvary in its title. But it does seem that over the last 20 or 25 years, there has been a sharp climb in the total new Cross/Calvary songs, and, therefore, in the percentage of Cross/Calvary cuts on Southern Gospel projects that are new songs.

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11 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Outstanding. The “money point” is in that last set of data, about new songs being written and recorded. I’d love to see this type of analysis for all sorts of lyrical subjects. Though a little rudimentary from only using songs with specific words in the title, it’s surely the only relatively efficient way to study it, and still brings eye-opening results.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head; this methodology is rudimentary, but necessarily rudimentary. It’s not exactly feasible to listen through 8924 songs, or even just a verse and chorus, for one line of text about songs from the 2000s! 🙂

      But, seriously, if I were to extend this onto other topics, there could be some train wrecks of titles. “The Fall of Heaven Songs”? Oh, dear. 😮

      • LOL. I might would lean more positive. Songs about good things that are increasing, or maybe even songs about not so good things decreasing. (How many songs are being written today about ol’ Peter sittin’ at the gates of heaven?) 🙂

      • Actually, my example was intentionally facetious. My actual hypothesis is that Heaven songs are holding stable or even growing, though I also hypothesize that writers are finding more creative ways to speak of Heaven. There are probably fewer “Jordan” or “Beulah” songs over the last 25 years, but that’s not exactly a bad thing, if writers are writing about Heaven in fresh ways instead of trying to top “Sweet Beulah Land” on its home turf.

      • True. I run into this when making my “theme” playlists. For example, one of the better Heaven songs of the last few years is “Sometimes I Wonder”. You ain’t gonna come up with that in an iTunes search of title keywords.

        One of the best Cross songs of this year is Rodney’s “This Is Grace”. You have to kind of think critically about it to be thorough. But then again, I’m only building 20-songs playlists, as opposed to trying to come up with a list, as comprehensive as possible, of songs on a subject. You’d be thinking critically for a really long time if you truly wanted a complete list.

      • …and with 30,000+ SG tracks, counting also those where I don’t know a year (and therefore didn’t appear here), there’s no way I would think of all applicable songs, no matter how long I thought. 🙂

  2. Oh, if I can think about it for a little while, I think you could think about it for as long as you think it would take to think. Don’t you think?

    ANYWAY, just to give examples of what you’d be dealing with, I did playlists of songs about the Cross, and about Heaven, on my blog. Of the crucifixion songs, 10 of the 17 had “cross” or “Calvary” in the title. (songs like “He Didn’t Come Down” and “They Should Have Cried Holy” didn’t) Only 5 of the 24 Heaven songs actually had “heaven” in the title. Our “heaven” vocabulary is very diverse, indeed.

    I’ll bring it back around to being more on topic. The way you did your study is definitely the best way, and probably the only way to really make a solid point.

    • Oops, blog user error on the replying.

    • I think I intuitively thought what you thought regarding the prevalence of “cross” or”Calvary” appearing in songs on the topic vs. “Heaven” appearing in Heaven songs. So I thought that this methodology would work here in a way that it probably wouldn’t with Heaven.

  3. I guess the makeup of one’s collection would influence the results. I felt that the percent of Calvary/Cross songs (via title) was low for the 1950’s. I checked through titles of singles for few groups (Blackwood Bros, Harmoneers, Statesmen etc.). Of those I found 23 of 336 = 6.8%

    • One influencing factor, I think, is that just about all of my source material from the 1950s is from LPs – Blackwood Brothers, Statesmen, Chuck Wagon Gang, etc. I have many of the LPs by the leading quartets and mixed groups of the era, but almost no 78rpm or 45rpm singles. Perhaps that is a factor, though I wouldn’t know why.