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A City Called Heaven

A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    A City Called Heaven
    Book Description:

    In A City Called Heaven , gospel announcer and music historian Robert Marovich shines a light on the humble origins of a majestic genre and its indispensable bond to the city where it found its voice: Chicago. Marovich follows gospel music from early hymns and camp meetings through the Great Migration that brought it to Chicago. In time, the music grew into the sanctified soundtrack of the city's mainline black Protestant churches. In addition to drawing on print media and ephemera, Marovich mines hours of interviews with nearly fifty artists, ministers, and historians--as well as discussions with relatives and friends of past gospel pioneers--to recover many forgotten singers, musicians, songwriters, and industry leaders. He also examines how a lack of economic opportunity bred an entrepreneurial spirit that fueled gospel music's rise to popularity and opened a gate to social mobility for a number of its practitioners. As Marovich shows, gospel music expressed a yearning for freedom from earthly pains, racial prejudice, and life's hardships. In the end, it proved to be a sound too mighty and too joyous for even church walls to hold.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09708-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Friday, January 6, 2006, was a typical winter day in Chicago.

    The temperature hovered around freezing as the sun shone through patches of clouds. People returned from the holidays to the bustle of their workweek routines, while big retail stores licked their wounds over disappointing holiday sales. Senator Barack obama was about to finish his freshman year in Congress. Nothing was unusual about the day until around 3:00 p.m., when Pilgrim Baptist Church suddenly and rapidly became an inferno.

    The blaze evaded all attempts by approximately 180 Chicago firefighters to quench it. decades-old stained-glass windows exploded onto Thirty-Third Street and...

  5. Part One: Roots

    • CHAPTER 1 Got On My Traveling Shoes: Black Sacred Music and the Great Migration
      (pp. 11-26)

      The Illinois Central passenger train screeched to a stop at the Twelfth Street depot on Chicago’s South Side, its smokestack coughing up frothy puffs of soot as if the fatigue of traveling 1,126 railroad miles north from New Orleans had caused it combustible indigestion.¹ From among the train’s human cargo, black men, women, and children trudged slowly through the passenger car doors and made their first footfalls on the platform.

      The Promised Land.

      Once inside the Illinois Central station’s bustling lobby, the new arrivals searched the sea of faces, looking for family members, friends, and neighbors who had already settled...

    • CHAPTER 2 “When the Fire Fell”: The Sanctified Church Contribution to Chicago Gospel Music
      (pp. 27-47)

      Chicago’s Pentecostal, Holiness, Apostolic, and Spiritual churches—collectively referred to as the sanctified church—helped establish in the northern urban environment what historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham has called an “emotional folk orality.” Working-class southern migrants brought their oral tradition, or “ age of the voice,” with them when they came north as part of the great Migration.¹ But while the folk orators of the sanctified church sought to remain close to their southern roots, they also wanted to carve out their own position of power and influence among the city’s African American cultural and political elite. By becoming “oral narrators...

    • CHAPTER 3 Sacred Music in Transition: Charles Henry Pace and the Pace Jubilee Singers
      (pp. 48-57)

      The Pace Jubilee Singers, Charles Henry Pace’s mixed vocal ensemble from Beth Eden Baptist Church in Morgan Park, Illinois, represented an early, and possibly deliberate, blending of the formal jubilee style enjoyed by the city’s old Settlers with the urban vernacular popular music that appealed to the southern migrant. As such, the group is a fascinating example of African American sacred music in transition. While it did not resolve, or even necessarily acknowledge, the tension inherent in its music, the Pace Jubilee Singers were sufficiently popular to encourage record companies to dedicate more resources to African American sacred music.


    • CHAPTER 4 Turn Your Radio On: Chicago Sacred Radio Broadcast Pioneers
      (pp. 58-70)

      During the 1920s, several Chicago Pentecostal and Holiness church leaders discovered that radio, like phonograph recordings, held the potential to transmit their ministries to households throughout the city and beyond, touching people they might never even meet. This deployment of a new medium for the churches’ message coincided with the overall entry of African Americans into the radio industry.

      African American entertainers appeared on Chicago radio from the earliest days of the medium—James Mundy’s Choristers appeared on KYW in 1923 and the Umbrian Glee Club on WLS in 1924—but black-oriented radio in Chicago as a cultural and economic...

    • CHAPTER 5 “Someday, Somewhere”: The Formation of the Gospel Nexus
      (pp. 71-86)

      Of those who played crucial roles in the development of gospel music in Chicago, Thomas Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, Sallie Martin, Theodore Frye, and Magnolia Lewis Butts rank as the most significant. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the five formed an informal nexus that spread the new gospel songs and gospel music style throughout Chicago and, ultimately, across the country.

      A versatile pianist, composer, arranger, singer, and bandleader, Thomas Andrew Dorsey was pivotal in incorporating jazz and blues styles into gospel. He was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, the oldest of five children, to Etta Plant Dorsey and Thomas...

    • CHAPTER 6 Sweeping through the City: Thomas A. Dorsey and the Gospel Nexus (1932–1933)
      (pp. 87-111)

      While Pilgrim Baptist Church is often cited as the birthplace of gospel music because Thomas Dorsey served as its music director, the creative spark propelling gospel to the forefront of black sacred music was actually struck two miles south of Pilgrim at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Ebenezer’s leadership in the gospel chorus movement was a silver lining after two tumultuous years of political infighting that culminated in the resignation of its pastor. Out of the melee arose a new leader whose love for the soul-stirring religious songs he had heard in his native Alabama inaugurated a new epoch, not only in...

    • CHAPTER 7 Across This Land and Country: New Songs for a New Era (1933–1939)
      (pp. 112-131)

      Despite the ardent efforts of conservative ministers to bar “jazzy hymns” from the church, a growing population of transplanted southern blacks and more than a few old Settlers were thrilled by Dorsey and Frye’s back-home sound. Ebenezer Baptist Church was filled to overflowing whenever its gospel chorus sang, whether for a Sunday-morning service or a special musical.¹ Migrants at other churches were eager to have gospel choruses of their own, and their influence was no longer insubstantial. once the butt of jokes and subject to condescending social commentary, new settlers were growing in numbers and becoming an economic and political...

    • CHAPTER 8 From Birmingham to Chicago: The Great Migration of the Gospel Quartet
      (pp. 132-146)

      The composer of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” may have exaggerated in his statement quoted in this epigraph, but he made a salient point: prior to the twentieth century, quartet singing was a popular and wholesome activity, especially for men, in the African American community.¹ Singing groups cultivated their sound in gathering spaces such as the barbershop, giving rise to the term “barbershop quartet.”² Local quartets were invited to sing special numbers during church worship services and provide spiritual entertainment for church congregations.³

      After 1870, black male quartets were invited to join professional traveling minstrel shows that, prior to the...

  6. Part Two: Branches

    • CHAPTER 9 Sing a Gospel Song: The 1940s, Part One
      (pp. 149-166)

      Migration from the South continued unabated into the 1940s, with as many as two thousand African Americans moving to Chicago each month.¹ Church congregations swelled with newcomers, and the boundaries of Bronzeville extended further south, past Sixty-Third Street and deep into the Southwest and West Sides. Seeking better housing, African American families integrated formerly white neighborhoods. Physical violence and property damage met them initially. Then they watched their white neighbors disappear to other neighborhoods and the suburbs.

      Likewise, gospel singers and musicians were popping up on the South and West Sides like dandelions in springtime. Like the group that assembled...

    • CHAPTER 10 “If It’s in Music—We Have It”: The Fertile Crescent of Gospel Music Publishing
      (pp. 167-178)

      In the 1930s, gospel singers, groups, quartets, and choirs plied their trade singing Dorsey songs, usingGospel Pearls, and rendering spirituals, hymns, and nineteenth-century revival songs that were arranged, or “gospelized.” Charles Pace and Lillian Bowles were the city’s only music publishers, besides Dorsey, who handled sheet music of gospel songs in the 1930s. Since Dorsey published his own work, Pace and Bowles published the songs of other gospel composers and arrangers. Then Pace moved to Pittsburgh in 1936, leaving Bowles and Dorsey to satisfy the demand for gospel sheet music in Chicago.

      As gospel music became more accepted in...

    • CHAPTER 11 “Move On Up a Little Higher”: The 1940s, Part Two
      (pp. 179-203)

      The U.S. record industry experienced an explosion of entrepreneurship after the American Federation of Musicians recording ban was lifted in 1944 and the Second World War ended the following year. Independent labels, or “indies,” set out to grab their share of the record market. Fledgling companies such as Apollo, Coleman, Hub, and Joe Davis featured the latest blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, and gospel (classified as “spirituals”) in their catalogs. Newark, New Jersey’s Savoy Records dedicated its 5000 series to spiritual releases, and king Records in Cincinnati added gospel to its flagship label as well as to its Queen subsidiary....

    • CHAPTER 12 Postwar Gospel Quartets: “Rock Stars of Religious Music”
      (pp. 204-228)

      After risking their lives to emancipate Europe from the Axis terror, southern black soldiers returned home from the Second World War to find conditions in their communities just as perilous as the ones they had left. Jim Crow laws, lynching, and other forms of brutality at the hands of southern whites were as present in 1945 as they had been in 1941. Lacking access to the voting booth, blacks were unable to unseat southern lawmakers who supported the status quo. These conditions, plus a phasing out of the sharecropper system of farming and the demand for industrial workers in a...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 13 The Gospel Caravan: Midcentury Melodies
      (pp. 229-259)

      By the 1950s, gospel music, once disparaged as “jazzing the hymns,” had all but supplanted the highbrow oratorios and anthems as the predominant sound of the semi-demonstrative, as well as some deliberative, or sermon-centered, African American churches in the urban North.¹ Gospel songs and choirs had also swept the country. Bernice Johnson Reagon writes: “By midcentury, gospel was completing a circle of sorts, as the old home country churches [of the South] whose families had been impacted by migration to the north began to organize their gospel choirs.”²

      Joel Friedman commented on the growing potential of gospel music as entertainment...

    • CHAPTER 14 “He Could Just Put a Song on His Fingers”: Second-Generation Gospel Choirs
      (pp. 260-280)

      Like a forest fire, word traveled through the Chicago gospel community about a choir with a huge sound that James Cleveland had brought from Detroit to Chicago to appear at true Light Baptist Church. Since many gospel music devotees missed the initial program, a second musical was scheduled for July 6, 1959, this time at the larger First Church of deliverance. Robert Anderson and Eddie Robinson sponsored the July 6 “Mountain of gospel Music,” starring James Cleveland and the choir that had stirred such curiosity—the Voices of tabernacle from Detroit’s Prayer tabernacle Church.¹

      “You could not get near First...

    • CHAPTER 15 “God’s Got a Television”: Gospel Music Comes to the Living Room
      (pp. 281-296)

      The June 1950Ebonyhad hopeful news. Television, albeit still in its infancy as a communication medium, held the potential to provide better performance opportunities for African Americans. “Negro footlight favorites are cast in every conceivable type of TV act—musical, dramatic, comedy. Yet rarely have they had to stoop to the Uncle tom pattern which is usually the Negro thespian’s lot on radio shows and in Hollywood movies.”¹ Indeed, in April 1949, black radio pioneer Jack L. Cooper became “the first Negro in America to carry a regular weekly television feature.”The Jack L. Cooper Revuepiloted May 6,...

    • CHAPTER 16 “Tell It Like It Is”: Songs of Social Significance
      (pp. 297-316)

      By the mid-1950s, Mahalia Jackson had racked up a few million selling singles and had conquered Carnegie Hall, Music Inn, Europe, radio, and television in the name of gospel. She was the newest star in the Columbia Records galaxy of artists. But none of that made any difference as she stood nervously on the side of a lonesome Louisiana highway, a hapless victim of two overzealous state troopers.

      InGot to tell It, Jules Schwerin describes the time when Jackson was pulled over by the Louisiana State Police en route from Chicago to New Orleans. It was the middle of...

    • CHAPTER 17 One of These Mornings: Chicago Gospel at the Crossroads
      (pp. 317-330)

      In September 1968, the Roberta Martin Singers entered the studio to recordPraise God, their first album in two years and, as it turned out, their last. With Rev. Lawrence Roberts at the helm, Praise God contained new songs as well as nearly note-for-note retreads of Apollo-era hits, such as Norsalus Mckissick’s “Saved” and DeLois Barrett Campbell’s “Come into My Heart, Lord Jesus.” The main difference was the inclusion of drums, which gave the group’s classic sound enough of a contemporary vibe to attract younger gospel enthusiasts. According to Savoy’s publicity department, Praise God was the release that prompted Joe...

  7. APPENDIX A. 1920s African American Sacred Music Recordings Made in Chicago
    (pp. 331-334)
  8. APPENDIX B. African American Sacred Music Recordings Made in Chicago, 1930–1941
    (pp. 335-336)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 337-388)
    (pp. 389-400)
    (pp. 401-434)
    (pp. 435-442)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 443-454)