Gospel Fest builds on Bronzeville’s musical legacy
MPC Research Assistant Emma Heemskerk authored this post.
You could feel history in the making as Bronzeville celebrated its musical roots this weekend at the newly relocated Gospel Fest at Ellis Park near 37th and Cottage Grove. In a bold move from its usual home at centrally located Millennium Park, Gospel Fest 2012 set a new precedent, drawing large crowds of all ages to the South Side at the free event meant to bring new attention and music lovers to Bronzeville, a neighborhood steeped in musical history.
Robinsons No. 1 Ribs and Mother Butters popcorn at Gospel Fest 2012.
Relaxation, family, fun and of course, good music was the mood of the day, all in homage to the legacy of a neighborhood responsible for the creation of jazz. Kids played air guitar with paper fans and teenagers waited near the rear of the stage, eager to catch a snapshot of their favorite act. Families set up their own spot with chairs, umbrellas and snacks to sit back, relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of a vibrant Bronzeville experience. For those with a hankering for fish fry, ribs or Chicago-mix popcorn, there were several local food stands to choose from such as Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs and popcorn by Mother Butter’s located at nearby 35th St. In the years to come, hopefully more local eateries like Ain’t She Sweet and H-Dogs will set up booths as well, helping introduce new customers to their products and drawing them back to the neighborhood in the future.
A gospel choir performs on Saturday's day stage at the Gospel Fest in Bronzeville, June 23, 2012.
In its heyday, Bronzeville was home to many of the jazz, soul and gospel greats including Thomas A. Dorsey of the Bronzeville Pilgrim Baptist Church who created many of the staple gospel songs adopted by various music artists today. Plans for a possible Gospel Museum across the street from the Church are also in Bronzeville's future. More recently, Bronzeville has been undergoing plans to revitalize retail corridors and help bring business to the area, one of the additional goals of the two-day relocation of the Gospel Fest to Ellis Park.
The Blind Boys of Alabama on stage at the Gospel Fest 2012.
The Saturday “Day Stage” featured smaller audiences and intimate performances by local gospel choirs such as Faith Temple Voices of Faith Combined Choirs and Tyrone Pittman and the Chicago Black Catholics Choir. The final night of the festival featured the Blind Boys of Alabama who took the stage at 5:30 p.m. and set the relaxed, feel-good mood for the evening. Sunday culminated in a standout performance by Mary Mary with a, by then, massive crowd singing in unison with the dynamic sister duo. The excitement around this act in particular was palpable as people rose to their feet and danced in the cool summer evening breeze.
I could feel the crowd’s collective excitement as Gospel Fest 2012 extended the legacy of a musical culture in Bronzeville. In the years to come, I hope youth can look upon the Gospel Fest with fond memories of the unique arts and culture that is rooted right here in Chicago. A new generation of creativity could grow to rebuild a rich musical history in Bronzeville in part because they were exposed to music at the Gospel Fest.
If you missed the Gospel Fest, check out more of the music Bronzeville has to offer at Jazz in the Alley's cultural events that celebrate jazz heritage or the Brown Derby Jazz Revue at the Great Lakes Elks Lodge, 5108 S. Prairie Ave., every Thursday night.