Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry

Univ. of Illinois. Jun. 2021. 368p. ISBN 9780252043840. $125; pap. ISBN 9780252085833. $32. MUSIC
Gospel music entrepreneur and evangelist Homer Rodeheaver (1880–1955) cuts a contradictory figure in this thematically organized biography. As Rodeheaver’s job titles might indicate, the tension between commercialization and evangelicalism endured throughout his life and career. Rodeheaver’s gift for showmanship and keen instinct for marketing led him to wild success as a music director and publisher, yet he was motivated by faith in Christianity and the power of music to move people spiritually. Rodeheaver’s literal big-tent approach—at their height, his tabernacle gatherings boasted thousands of attendees, all singing together—made for some problematic associations. He was inspired by Black American spiritual music and reached out to Black churches, but he also accepted support and donations from the Ku Klux Klan and avoided speaking out against racism—though his opprobrium for other sins could be thunderous. Admittedly hampered at times by missing documentary evidence, Mungons (editorial manager, Moody Bible Inst.) and Yeo (Serpents, Bass Horns, and Ophicleides at the Bate Collection) thread this needle with care, though ultimately readers must draw their own conclusions.
VERDICT An intriguing and thorough, if sometimes overly succinct portrayal. For scholars and others interested in gospel music.
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