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Tyrone Jordan, left, a trustee at Pilgrim Baptist Church, and Rev. Stanley Keeble of Logos Baptist Assembly
Tyrone Jordan, (left), a trustee at Pilgrim Baptist Church, and Reverend Stanley Keeble of Logos Baptist Assembly, hug in front of the shell of the Pilgrim Baptist Church Saturday, January 7, 2006.
(Photo: Spencer Green/AP Wide World)

Where Gospel Music Was Born
By Joe Wlos
Scholastic Kids Press Corps

Friday, January 13—The historic home of gospel music is gone. Only a shell remains after fire swept through and destroyed Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois, last week. The 115-year-old church, which began as a synagogue, was also an architectural marvel.

Investigators believe that the fire was ignited by workers fixing the building's roof. They were using blow torches for the repair.

After the smoke cleared, the church's 200 members realized they had lost their spiritual home, a piece of their community, and a part of history.

"It's like a death to the community," said the Reverend B. Herbert Martin, of Progressive Baptist Church. Martin has preached at Pilgrim Baptist.

Pilgrim Baptist Church was considered an architectural masterpiece. It was originally designed as a synagogue by Louis Sullivan in the late 1800s.

Sullivan designed many other renowned buildings in the Midwest. His draftsman at the time, Frank Lloyd Wright, another famous architect, worked on the building's design. The synagogue became Pilgrim Baptist Church in 1923. Recently, the building was declared a historic landmark of Chicago.

Over time, the membership of the church has slowly decreased as people moved away. For the past few years, the church had been difficult to maintain. With leaky roofs, chipped paint, water-damaged walls, and other problems that the members couldn't fix, it was declared one of the 10 most-endangered religious buildings in the country.

The Home of Gospel

One the church's early music directors was Thomas A. Dorsey, who combined jazz, blues, and hymns to form gospel music. This style of music incorporates a lot of emotion and feeling. It is also an offshoot of early African-American spirituals. When gospel music was born, it became a very important part of African-American Christian faith.

During the 1930s, because of Dorsey's gospel music and the pastor's very charismatic sermons, so many people came to worship at the church that many had to stand along the walls or watch through the windows. Famous singers who performed gospel at Pilgrim Baptist included Mahalia Jackson and Sam Cooke.

Since the fire, many organizations have begun donating money to the church's rebuilding fund. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich pledged $1 million in state funds to help rebuild. That set off a political firestorm as people began to argue that public tax dollars should not be used to rebuild a private church.

It could be that the tax dollars won't be necessary. Church leaders said supporters from around the nation are sending contributions.

"People realize that Pilgrim Church is in many ways the mother of all black churches," said Robert Vaughn, chairman of Pilgrim's board of trustees. "The smoke signal went up and sent the message that we need help."



RELATED WEB SITES

Thomas A. Dorsey
Learn more about Thomas Dorsey, a former musical director at Pilgrim Baptist Church's. He is considered to be the "Father of Gospel Music".

Pilgrim Baptist Church-Wikipedia
Visit this site from Wikipedia to learn more about Pilgrim Baptist Church.


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