This semester, we built on last semester’s work on Bronzeville, Illinois by developing a more in-depth map on Neatline of historical locations and buildings. We also conducted more specific research into a greater range of subjects, such as historical monuments, arrests, and nuclear research, in 1930s Chicago. One of the biggest differences of this semester was the size and dynamic of the group, since we had over twice as many people as last semester. We engaged in large-group discussions about our topics every week, which helped me learn and think about how my topic, gospel music, intersected with the other topics like crime and gentrification.
Specifically, I researched how the evolution and “jazzification” of gospel music was perceived by various church choral directors. I stumbled upon this subject while continuing research on Bronzeville’s Pilgrim Baptist Church, the origin of gospel music. Gospel music combined the upbeat rhythms and swing of jazz with traditional church music to produce the clapping hymns we know today. However, some musicians, such as Professor H.B.P. Johnson, did not appreciate making the music danceable, claiming that it took away from the spirituality and authenticity of the music itself, especially if “jazzy” additions were made to another composer’s work. There is also an interesting dichotomy to be drawn between the nightclubs, where jazz was played, and the church, where gospel music was played. The church did not want to be associated with the “lower” lives and sacrilegious actions of the nightclub because they were working toward elevating the black community’s social status and perception in the eyes of others. These tensions were discussed in “Jazz Age Ruining Church Music, says Choral Director,” detailing an interview with Prof. Johnson in The Chicago Defender. Nevertheless, gospel music had an incredible impact on the Bronzeville community, inspiring the creation of music competitions with scholarships, national conventions to develop more community, benefit concerts to celebrate music education, and a sense of town pride for being the origin point of a national artistic movement.
The Chicago Defender contained a wide variety of sources to inform my research, including many advertisements and promotions for upcoming concerts, music competitions, and conventions. Prof. John Dorsey is depicted as a local hero, celebrated for all the musical and educational service he has contributed to Bronzeville and the black community across the nation. An article titled “Singers Plan Tribute to Prof. Dorsey” exemplifies how respected he was by local musicians, and this article was not alone in highlighting his many accomplishments and events organized in his honor.
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