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Gospel museum rises in ashes of historic church

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CHICAGO -- A new national museum will rise from the ashes of the Pilgrim Baptist Church, which was destroyed in a fire more than a decade ago.

The museum will honor and celebrate a Chicago-born innovation in music: gospel.

It was Thomas Dorsey, the long-time music director here at Pilgrim, who first blended blues and jazz with the soul and the spirit. Now, his singular achievement will be honored in a new national museum.

It is the music that gives rhythm to religion -- the power of the human voice -- to lift the Holy Spirit. It is also the reason why hope will rise from this ruin.

A decade ago, the historic Pilgrim Baptist Church -- a cradle of the Civil Rights movement and gospel music -- burned on the corner of 33rd and Indiana on Chicago’s South Side.

“Part of the spirit of Chicago, the spirit of south side and this nation – this neighborhood -- burned with it," said U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Chicago.

Only the stone walls of master architect Louis Sullivan stood, but at the intersection of heartbreak and hope two unlikely allies would meet: Don Jackson, the South Side visionary, and Dirk Lohan, the German-born architect.

"I'm thinking what is this white man of six-foot-four coming to me about -- I used to hear the voices in the church," Jackson said.

Sixty years ago, Lohan was an IIT student and lived a block from Pilgrim Baptist Church.

"We went in there, and it was the first time I ever heard anything like this, and I liked it so much I went several times," Lohan said.

Like the music, Lohan’s design will literally lift up the roof, providing a space where the history of gospel music will echo forever. The voices of some of the nation’s most beloved singers were honed in gospel: from Aretha Franklin to Sam Cooke, and from The Staples Singer to Al Green.

Now the story of the stirring spiritual music will be told in its birthplace -- at the corner of history and harmony.

This will be the nation’s first gospel museum, and it's set to open in 2020. There will be both exhibitions and an auditorium for live gospel performances.