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Gospel music touched B.B. King and many other stars
B.B. King star on Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California. - photo by Mark A. Kellner
Blues guitar legend B.B. King, who died earlier this month at his Las Vegas home, wasn't the only popular musician whose work started with, or was influenced by, gospel music. Artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Elvis to Paul Simon and Katy Perry have been touched by a musical angel, too.

King, who performed for U.S. presidents and Pope John Paul II, was raised in Christian circles but abandoned the faith and gospel music as an adult. Before then, however, it was the Pentecostal denomination known as the Church of God in Christ where he learned not only the guitar, but also the impact music could have.

"Church was not only a warm spiritual experience," The Washington Post quoted King as saying. "It was exciting entertainment. It was where I could sit next to a pretty girl and mostly it was where the music got all over my body and made me wanna jump."

But King was far from alone in having gospel music influence their work. Rock-n-roll pioneer Elvis Presley, who sang gospel songs throughout his career, learned to play the guitar at an Assembly of God chapel in Tupelo, Mississippi. A note at the Elvis Presley Birthplace website mentions, "According to minister, Brother Frank Smith, Elvis was fascinated with music and the prospect of learning to play the guitar. Brother Frank taught Elvis how to make D, A and E chords all he needed to play 'Ole Shep.'" The chapel was moved to the birthplace site for tourists to visit, the group said.

While Elvis was raised in a Pentecostal home, singer-songwriter Paul Simon, half of the Simon & Garfunkel duo whose later solo career tapped many forms of world music, often relied on gospel themes and occasionally, on gospel artists themselves in his work.

"Gods not into pop music," Simon told London's Telegraph newspaper in 2011. "He likes the gospel shows."

Like King and Presley, soul singer Aretha Franklin's path to music stardom began in a church her father's congregation in Detroit, Michigan. The Rev. C.L. Franklin, her father, was a well-known pastor and her mother, Barbara Franklin, was a gospel singer.

Young Aretha's "talent as a singer allowed her to perform with her father's traveling gospel show," the Aretha Franklin Facts website noted. "She sang regularly before his congregation at Detroit's New Bethel Baptist Church as well, where her performance of 'Precious Lord,' among other gospel gems, was captured for posterity."

And Katy Perry, who under her original name of Katy Hudson released "Faith Won't Fail" and other Christian songs in 2001, was raised by parents who pastored a Pentecostal church. She said last year she's no longer a Christian, but Perry credited God with helping her overcome depression.
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