Gospel’s Birthplace Nearly Leveled By Chicago Storm
Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church was gutted by fire in 2006 and now, following this week’s windstorms, has been reduced to two walls.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the location was set to become the National Museum of Gospel Music in recognition of the historic role the church played in crafting the musical style. Thomas A. Dorsey, the so-called “father of gospel music,” served as the Pilgrim Baptist Church’s choir director from the 1930s through the Seventies.
The once-majestic structure on Chicago’s South Side was built in 1890, designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. Originally a synagogue, the building became a church in 1922. Regarded as the birthplace of gospel due to Dorsey’s involvement, the church has seen performances by the likes of Aretha Franklin, the Staples Singers and Mahala Jackson. Dorsey, for his part, penned gospel standards like “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
The church began fundraising in 2017 to convert the burned-out structure into a gospel museum, and it seems this week’s storm may hasten those plans. Don Jackson — founder and CEO of Chicago-based Central City Productions — told the Sun-Times: “This forces the urgency. This has been a blessing for the project that says that we need to get started.” The museum is slated to open in September 2022 with a projected contribution from both Chicago and Illinois totaling $10 million. Jackson says the project is estimated to cost $48 million.
The location could also be converted into an open-air concert venue or a fieldhouse should renovations prove too expensive, according to Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.