Few cities around the world can match Chicago’s rich, vast musical heritage of electrified blues, jazz, and gospel. Equally dynamic is the vibrant community of art, history, science and cultural museums lauded as preeminent institutions throughout the world. Yet, despite the city’s prolific artistic and cultural assets, there is not a major institution dedicated to the history and worldwide influence of this distinctly American art form originating in Chicago.
Chicago is widely recognized as the “birthplace of gospel music”, and Pilgrim Baptist Church is celebrated as its home. Designed by renowned architects Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler in 1890, the site was originally a synagogue until the 1920s when it became a spiritual refuge for African Americans arriving in Chicago from cities in the South during the Great Migration. Among the migrants was a blues pianist, Thomas Dorsey, who in the 1930’s began weaving Christian praise hymns with the rhythms of blues and jazz, organized a choir and became music director at Pilgrim Baptist Church. Widely regarded as the “Father of Gospel Music”, Dorsey composed and published “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and drew top singes who would go on to become legends of gospel music. Gospel greats James Cleveland and Mahalia Jackson got their start by singing at Pilgrim. Aretha Franklin, Albertina Walker, Sam Cooke, and The Staples Singers are among the many artists who performed at Pilgrim.
In 2006, a tragic fire destroyed all but two limestone walls of the church – gutting the historic landmark that gave rise to gospel music. What remained was a deep sense of spiritual, cultural, musical, and architectural significance. Twelve years later and in the same spirit as Chicago’s own rebirth following a catastrophic fire, visionary businessman Don Jackson, founder of the Stellar Gospel Music Awards, and Antoinette D. Wright, former president and CEO of the DuSable Museum of African American History (1997 - 2009) has joined with the congregation of Pilgrim Baptist Church to bring back gospel’s good news with ambitious plans to establish the first National Museum of Gospel Music.
America has museums dedicated to country, jazz, soul, rock ‘n roll, Seattle-based pop and the Motown sound, and to instruments from countries and cultures around the globe in every historical period of mankind. The story of gospel music is often told in the context of other music styles. Gospel is the story of universal themes of resilience, faith, struggle, and triumph. It has been the soundtrack of the African American fight for freedom and equality and an ambassador of goodwill around the world.
The National Museum of Gospel Music will be known for its commitment to understanding the richness of gospel music as reflected in our past, present, and future by providing learning experiences for children and adults. Established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the mission of the National Museum of Gospel Music is to inspire people of all ages to learn more about gospel music and its contributions to the foundation of American music culture through its exhibitions and programs. The opening is planned for September 2020, a month that holds special significance as former President Barack Obama designated September as Gospel Music Heritage Month.
This GoFundMe page will support the initial development of the Gospel Music heritage interpretation program for the Museum. The interpretative planning process will develop a structured approach to interpret the stories, messages, and information related throughout the musical genre and subgenres. The goal of interpretation is to improve and enrich the visitor experience by helping NMGM visitors understand the significance of the place they are visiting and to connect those meanings to visitors' own personal lives. Visit our website for more information