Gospel's Birthplace Nearly Leveled By Chicago Storm - Rolling Stone
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Gospel’s Birthplace Nearly Leveled By Chicago Storm

Pilgrim Baptist Church — set to become gospel museum — reduced to two walls

CHICAGO - JANUARY 7:  The skeletal remains of the landmark Pilgrim Baptist Church continue to smolder January 7, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. The building was designed by distinguished architects Louis Sullivan and his partner Dankmar Adler in the late 1800s as a synagogue but has housed the Pilgrim Baptist Church since 1922. The church hosted the funeral of boxer Jack Johnson and is considered the birthplace of gospel music.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Chicago's Pilgrim Baptist Church was gutted by fire in 2006 and, following this week's windstorms, it has now been reduced to two walls.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

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.

In This Article: Gospel

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