Prepare for the nation’s first major Gospel Music museum. The National Museum of Gospel Music is anticipated to feature a $37.2 million updated structure where the current Pilgrim Baptist Church now stands. The opening is planned for September 2020, a month that holds a special significance because former President Barack Obama designated September as Gospel Music Heritage Month.

Pilgrim Baptist Church, courtesy of the Library of Congress
Pilgrim Baptist Church, courtesy of the Library of Congress

The 45,000 square foot facility will feature a glass-encased roof addition, several exhibition spaces, an auditorium, and a research library. Operating costs are projected to be around $4 million a year, which will be raised from admission and other user fees.

The man leading the project, Don Jackson, founder of the Stellar Gospel Music Awards and former chairman of the DuSable Museum of African American History said, “The museum will pay further tribute to the home-grown genre that’s given life to legends like Thomas Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, Albertina Walker, Jessy Dixon, Shirley Caesar, and so many more.”

Thomas Andrew Dorsey (July 1, 1899 – January 23, 1993)
Thomas Andrew Dorsey (July 1, 1899 – January 23, 1993)

Are gospel’s roots in Chicago?

Some say that gospel music is rooted in the 17th century with singing of psalms in Gaelic by Presbyterians of the Scottish Hebrides. Others cite Philip Bliss who published Gospel Songs in 1874 as the first gospel musician. But for many, the “father of black gospel music” title will always be owned by Chicago blues musician, Thomas A. Dorsey.

Before moving to Chicago, Thomas was born in Villa Rica, Georgia. From 1932 until the late ’70s he was the music director at Pilgrim Baptist Church, the very same location that the museum will soon occupy. Dorsey’s best-known song was, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” which was a favorite of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Have you been to Pilgrim Baptist Church? Excited to see what comes from the new space?

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