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Chicago gospel music museum set to open this fall in Bronzeville

Records photos (above MahaliJackson) from Rev. Stanley Keeble’s personal collectiwill be displayed Chicago Gospel Music Heritage Museum scheduled open this

Records and photos (above, Mahalia Jackson) from the Rev. Stanley Keeble’s personal collection will be displayed at the Chicago Gospel Music Heritage Museum, scheduled to open this October in Bronzeville. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Chicago gospel music festival

◆ Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

◆ Ellis Park, 27th at Cottage Grove

◆ Free admission

◆explorechicago.org.

Updated: July 24, 2012 9:50AM



The idea of a Chicago gospel music museum is a longtime dream of the Rev. Stanley Keeble, who worked with gospel legends Inez Andrews and the late Jessy Dixon.

As the 27th annual Chi­cago Gospel Music Festival moves this weekend to Bronzeville, it’s fitting that plans for a museum have been resurrected for a spot across from the landmark Pilgrim Baptist Church, 3300 S. Indiana. In the 1930s, its congregation played a role in the rise of gospel music, as the home base of Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of gospel music, and author of more than 3,000 blues and gospel songs, including “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” (1932), recorded by acts as diverse as Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard and Ike and Tina Turner.

Pilgrim Baptist pastor Tyrone R. Jordan recently reached out to Keeble. “He needs a base,” Jordan said in an interview last week. “And what is a better base than the home of gospel music?”

Jordan offered Keeble the entire 3,000-square-foot third floor of Pilgrim Baptist’s temporary home at 3301 S. Indiana, a former car dealership. In January 2006, Pilgrim Baptist was consumed by fire and is being rebuilt on its original site.

“Things are finally taking to take shape,” said Keeble, who in 2010 had announced plans to open the museum in the former parsonage of the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, 4108 S. King Dr., but that fell through. “It’s looking very good for the museum.”

Keeble and Jordan hope to open the museum, to be named the Chicago Gospel Music Heritage Museum, by October.

Keeble, 75, has a long association with gospel. In addition to his work with Andrews and Dixon, he formed his own gospel choir, the Voices of Triumph, in 1968. In 1980, he began teaching English in the Chicago public school system, where he created an accredited program on gospel music.

He also has a huge collection of memorabilia, such as the tuxedo worn by gospel great James Cleveland when he received the first of his five Grammy Awards, along with uniforms from Chicago’s legendary Thompson Community Singers. He recently acquired every album recorded by gospel icon Mahalia Jackson.

In addition, Keeble wants the museum to have a digital component, allowing visitors to explore virtual history. This digital component complements Jordan’s plans to establish a “media ministry” at Pilgrim Baptist.

Next week the church will debut its site (pilgrimbaptischurchchicago.org) via which it will stream church services worldwide. “So many people love Pilgrim Baptist Church,” said Jordan, 50. “It was one of the first mega churches. That’s why so many people are concerned about rebuilding. We’re going to use the Internet to show our Sunday morning services and update people on our rebuilding process. We will link to other church sites.”

The Chicago Gospel Music Heritage Museum would be the latest in a series of tribute sites. In 1989, a Jazz-Blues-Gospel Hall of Fame opened in the Chicago Public Library Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington. (The project was led by Charles Suber, publisher of DownBeat magazine from 1955-’62 and 1968-’82.) Initial inductees were Jackson, Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. The hall of fame moved to the Harold Washington Library when it opened in 1991 and is now accessible as part of the library’s archival collection.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Gospel Music Festival runs Saturday-Sunday in Ellis Park, 37th and Cottage Grove. For a full schedule, go to explorechicago.org.



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