On a whim (and with the help of a $30 Amazon giftcard), I picked up a collection of early gospel recordings. It’s called Waxing the Gospel: Mass Evangelism & The Phonograph 1890-1900.
The recordings are extremely primitive. The technology was still in its infancy, and I imagine the wax cylinders that held these recordings would have deteriorated to a degree over time.
Still, you get a crash course in history. You hear the old hymns when many of them were brand new. Additionally, you will hear recordings by Dwight Moody, Fanny Crosby, and Ira Sankey (who partnered with Moody in many of his crusades during the 19th century).
You will probably need the book with the printed lyrics to decipher many of these songs. Still, that didn’t stop me from enjoying what are probably the earliest recordings of sacred music we have.
If you’re in the Christian music industry, you can think of this collection as a sampling of the very beginning of gospel music. Or if you’re just a big music nerd like me, you will appreciate where we’ve come from in terms of recording technology.