As the year closes, we thought it would be cool to compile a list of the best gospel songs of 2016. These tracks range from southern soul rhythms, to hip-hop soliloquies, and all that falls in between. Some of these tunes are by household names such as Kirk Franklin and Chance the Rapper, while others hail from lesser known acts or rising stars. But, the connecting theme is that they are all great songs.
Take a look for yourself:
1. “You Deserve It” by J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise (James Town Music)
After more than a decade of solid and respectable radio hits, the high-energy Bridgeport, Connecticut ensemble has finally found a smashing track that can potentially jettison them into the upper echelon of the gospel big leagues, garnering top status with this rousing Sunday morning sing-a-long.JJ Hairston performs in Landover, MD. Photo by Bird’s Eye Photography.
2. “Made a Way” by Travis Greene (RCA Inspiration)
It was “Intentional” that established Greene as the purveyor of urban folk music last year, with his acoustic guitar picking, but it’s this mellow testimonial that is really ordering the steps of his blossoming career.Travis Greene performs on BET’s Joyful Noise program.
3. “Feels Like Home” by Nathan East, ft. Yolanda Adams (Yamaha Entertainment Group)
The legendary R&B bassist gives the iconic alto (or second soprano, to some) her finest musical moment in a long spell. She rewards the gift with a bravura performance, fronting an electrifying choir on a transcendent urban inspirational anthem.Nathan East. Photo by Kharen Hill.
4. “Hang On” by GEI, ft. Kierra Sheard (Karew Records)
A Detroit church youth choir teams up with the pastor’s daughter for a festive and downright simple track, which is criminally alluring with its percussive drum breaks, joyous horn lines, and an intense lead vocals.Kierra Sheard. Courtesy of Karew Records.
5. “I’ll Just Say Yes” by Brian Courtney Wilson (Motown Gospel)
One of the finest singers of any genre, Wilson has an incomparable voice—warm as velvet, yet rough as sandpaper—that absolutely inhabits this song of surrender, with deep passion that is only enhanced by the distinct drumline and the celestial backing vocals.Brian Courtney Wilson. Photo by Derek Blanks.
6. “God Provides” by Tamela Mann (Tillymann, Inc.)
It’s a daunting task to follow-up a record as big as the platinum selling “Take Me to the King,” but Kirk Franklin, who penned both melodies, provides his high school classmate Tamela Mann another dramatic anthem, which shows off her formidable belting skills.
Tamela Mann. Photo by Keston McKinnon.
7. “My Everything” by Bri, also known as Briana Babineaux (Marquis Boone/Tyscot Records)
The 23-year-old Louisiana native and The Shade Room celebrity brings hungry vocals to this gumbo, which bubbles with a succulent roux of Latin jazz and adult R&B spices.Bri (Briana Babineaux) performing on “The Brian Carn Show” in Ft. Worth, TX on July 28, 2015. Photo courtesy of Daystar Television Network.
8. “Joy” by Vashawn Mitchell (V Man/Motown Gospel)
This Chicago son shines like the sun in Soweto on top a balmy, open-air rhythm, with poignant musings, such as, “There’s beauty in my brokenness.” The lyrics are instantly singable, relatable, and spiritually comforting.Vashawn Mitchell. Photo courtesy of V Man/Motown Gospel.
9. “Overflow” by Bryan Andrew Wilson, ft. Roderick Giles and Grace (Bryan’s Songs/CE Music)
The veteran singer charts new waters in the praise and worship realm, with this uplifting cry for a spiritual outpouring amid a fusion of electric guitars; raspy wails; and a thunderous, heavenly choir.Bryan Andrew Wilson. Photo by Roy Cox Photography.
10. “So Much Luv” by Jor’dan Armstrong (SeaQ/Good Guys)
It’s hard to believe that Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s native son could have improved upon last year’s automatically lovable track, “We Made It.” But, he does just that on this urban electronica jam that boasts a devotional message and a booming bassline, echoing both dancehall king Gyptian’s “Hold Yuh” and Slave’s “Just a Touch of Love”—if that’s possible.
Jor’dan Armstrong. Courtesy of SeaQ Management.
11. “I See Victory” by Pharrell, ft. Kim Burrell (Columbia Records)
Pharrell maintains the snappy, retro, ’60s Motown sound he perfected on “Happy” for this ditty, which is uniquely tailored to Burrell’s signature jazzy syncopation and vocal gyrations. The song is lifted from the soundtrack to the film Hidden Figures that stars Empire’s Taraji P. Henson as well as Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.
Watch Pharrell and Kim Burrell perform on The Tonight Show below.
12. “Back to You” by Tim Bowman, Jr. (Lifestyle Music/Motown Gospel)
Vickie Winans’ nephew is currently known for the R&B-brushed self-affirmation “I’m Good” that artfully sampled Zuelma’s 1975 cover of The Jackson 5’s “Wanna Be Where You Are.” But, the hidden gem on his Grammy-award nominated sophomore set, Listen, is this explosively raw piano ballad that is a career defining moment.
Tim Bowman Jr. Courtesy of Lifestyle Music Group.
13. “It’s Alright, It’s OK” by Shirley Caesar, ft. Anthony Hamilton (Light Records)
Mother Shirley and Deacon Hamilton visit Memphis on this old school soul-styled, mid-tempo, track that mirrors the Rev. Al Green’s early ’70s Hi-Records output, with its swirling organ fills, dribbling drum pattern, tasteful tambourines, and earthy vocal exchanges.
14. “I Made It” by Fantasia, ft. Tye Tribbett (19 Recordings)
A sonic, philosophical, upbeat track provides a cross-section of New Orleans horns and marching band pageantry. The storyline parallels with the raspy voiced singer’s own personal battles over the last few years, with a triumphant declaration and Tye Tribbett cheering her on.
15. “God’s Grace” by Rev. Luther Barnes and the Restoration Worship Center Choir (Shanachie)
The legendary quartet crooner eases into the 21st century with a smooth, mid-tempo comeback, which boasts earnest lead vocals and a contemporary choir backdrop that is as much of a throwback as it is a fast-forward.Luther Barnes. Photo by Kevin “K.T.” Terrell
16. “Run On” by JoJo Martin (Morton Records)
When one pairs neo soul troubadour P.J. Morton’s tasteful production skills with the seemingly effortless, golden-toned vocalizing of JoJo Martin, the result is nothing short of magical. The dynamic duo casts a heavy spell on this powerful ode to perseverance.Josiah “JoJo” Martin. Photo courtesy of Morton Records.
17. “Pray for Me” by Kirk Franklin (Fo Yo Soul)
Better known for narrating and rapping his warehouse full of hits, Franklin actually sings on this beautiful plea for prayer during a troubling time. His simple, unvarnished approach illuminates the track’s naked message that he’s “about to lose it all.”Kirk Franklin. Photo courtesy of Fo Yo Soul/RCA Inspiration.
18. “Gotta Keep Movin'” by Margaret Bell (Dare Records)
Vanessa Armstrong’s baby sister never earned her just due, when she launched her solo career two decades ago. But, maybe she’ll get a second shot with this warm and snug track that’s cut in the late ’70s, R&B flow of Rufus ft. Chaka Khan songs, like “Sweet Thing” and “Hollywood.”Margaret Bell album cover. Photo courtesy of Dare Records.
19. “Never Have to Be Alone” by Cece Winans (Pure Springs/Thirty Tigers)
After an extended solo recording hiatus, gospel’s princess returns to claim her kingdom with a simple, sophisticated ballad that sits nicely beside her signature classics, such as “Alabaster Box” and “He’s Always There.”CeCe Winans. Photo by Jeremy Corwat.
20. “Grateful” by Ted Winn, ft. Maranda (TeddysJamz/Shanachie)
Gliding over a classical piano backdrop, Winn’s buttery tenor ushers this paean of gratitude to a summit of majestic choir voices and glorious strings, before a climatic segue into Walter Hawkins’ “Grateful,” featuring a cameo from song stylist Maranda, whose urgent tone sparkles with ebullience.Ted Winn Grateful digital album cover.
21. “Blessings” by Chance the Rapper (Chance the Rapper)
Atop the familiar melody of Minnie Riperton’s 1975 chestnut “Lovin’ You,” Chance doesn’t come off as a trash-talking street rapper, as much as a folksy neighborhood griot recalling his tests, testimonies, and tasks-to-come, on this infectious downbeat. It closes with a chorus of competing voices chanting, with the refrain of Fred Hammond’s “Let The Praise Begin.”Chance The Rapper’s album Coloring Book.
22. “Jesus, Lay Down Beside Me” by Mavis Staples (Anti)
The thing about power is, it isn’t always loud and menacing. Here, Staples employs a tender strength and brightness, on goth rocker Nick Cave’s dark dirge. Over a quilt of softly rocking guitars and gurgling hums, Mother Earth’s commanding instrument provides a cushion to world-weary providence. “You wept a million tears, Lord,” she sings. “For the truth has fallen on deaf ears. Don’t despair, I am prepared, are you in need?”Mavis Staples. Photo by Chris Strong.
23. “Vessel” by Rance Allen Group (Tyscot Records)
The Toledo-based trio of brothers are one of the few soul groups of the 1970s that retains its original members. Back then, they toured with R&B stars, such as Isaac Hayes and The Dramatics, perfecting their own blend of sacred music with soulful, secular influences. With guest vocalist Paul Porter, the fellas hammer this 8:44 live recording with a cry to become molded into the Savior’s image, with riveting squalls, squeals, and sanctified shouts.Rance Allen Group. Photo by Max Williams.
24. “Winning” by Charles Jenkins (Inspired People/Empire)
“Good energy feels me, I feel the love,” Jenkins croons, on this catchy, retro R&B rhythm, which swirls with a sweet string movement; a punchy, upright piano; and a puerile pool of singers that enhance the brightness of the message and the melody. It’s a winner.
Charles Jenkins. Photo courtesy of Inspired People/Empire.
25. “Can’t You Hear Him Calling?” by Candi Staton (Beracah/MRI)
The First Lady of Southern Soul reminds us of the intersection of country and soul, on this easy ballad about the hereafter. The tenor and altos in the backing group are upfront, and drive the warm harmonies as Staton alternates between singing and testifying about much-missed loved ones on the other side of yonder. “My mother will be there, and my father too,” she sings. “No more tears and heartaches will be there. Nothing but joy.”Candi Staton. Photo by Sean Cokes.