Musical inspiration from religion

Feb 23, 2012

Religion and secular music don’t often cross paths, but many a pop singer and song has a religious inspiration … George Harrison raised some eyebrows with his 1967 composition “Within You Without You”, with lyrics that reflected the teachings of Hinduism.

From the Buddhist message of The Lion King’s “Circle of Life” to the uplifting spiritual “Oh Happy Day, we have tolerated and embraced religious meaning in our pop tunes.

It’s no secret that Aretha Franklin started out singing in church, her father was a respected preacher in Detroit, and it was there that she honed her iconic voice. Many of her pop songs were influenced by the gospel sounds she grew up with, including “I Say a Little Prayer”. Here’s a live clip of Aretha Franklin performing the song:

Another icon with a long history in the church is Little Richard, who was one of the architects of rock and roll music, paving the way for people like James Brown and Elvis Presley. In 1957, after a string of hits that included “Tutti Frutti” and “Good Golly Miss Molly”, he abruptly left the music business and trained to be an ordained minister. Although he was a successful gospel artist, the demand for him to perform his secular hits was huge, and over the decades he has gone back and forth between pop and gospel music. Here is a clip of Little Richard performing one of his biggest hits “Keep A-Knockin’”:

Harry Belafonte has always included songs from different cultures in his performances, and almost always sang “Hava Nagila”. He once said, “Most American Jews learned that song from me”. Here is a fun clip of Harry Belafonte and Danny Kaye singing “Hava Nagila”: