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A City Called Heaven

"Gospel music historian and radio host Robert Marovich will discuss his book A City Called Heaven during a Society of Midland Authors program at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12, at Harold Washington Library Center," the Society says in a press release. "God's Posse, a gospel chorus, will perform. Admission is free, and no advance reservations are required.

"Published this year by the University of Illinois Press, the book follows gospel music from early hymns and camp meetings through the Great Migration that brought it to Chicago.

"In time, the music grew into the sanctified soundtrack of the city's mainline black Protestant churches.

"In addition to drawing on print media and ephemera, Marovich mines hours of interviews with nearly 50 artists, ministers, and historians - as well as with relatives and friends of past gospel pioneers - to recover many forgotten singers, musicians, songwriters, and industry leaders.

"He also examines how a lack of economic opportunity bred an entrepreneurial spirit that fueled gospel music's rise to popularity and opened a gate to social mobility for a number of its practitioners.

Marovich is a gospel music historian, author and radio host. "Gospel Memories," his radio program of classic gospel, spiritual, and jubilee music, airs on Chicago's WLUW-FM and throughout the week on Internet, low-power FM, and terrestrial radio stations.

"Marovich writes about classic and contemporary gospel music as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Gospel Music. The website, formerly known as The Black Gospel Blog, was nominated for a Rhythm of Gospel Award in 2013."


"A City Called Heaven" by Mahalia Jackson:


Guarino, Tribune:

"This involves a wide cast of figures and local congregations that all contribute to this slowly unfolding story, and Marovich pinpoints them on his cultural map so deftly the reader can begin to understand, not just why gospel became such a necessary expression of faith for Southern migrants to Bronzeville, Morgan Park, and other near South Side neighborhoods, but also why Chicago was so critical.

"While Chicago's promise of jobs and new freedoms created the Great Migration from the South, the city was also a commercial center to industries that promoted gospel in its earliest days: sheet music publishing and radio broadcasting.

"It wasn't until the late 1940s that the big-time music business entered the picture, enabling worldwide success for stars including Jackson - so popular that when she died in 1972, she had no less than three funerals in two cities, Marovich notes. Until then, however, the music was largely a live phenomenon for true believers."


Berlatsky, Urban Faith:

"Marovich's book is in many ways a chronicle of gospel fans, performers, and devotees telling each other that they are in one way or another doing it wrong - performing too demonstratively, or in the wrong venue, or in the wrong way, for the wrong people.

"The criticism can seem excessive and narrow-minded at times, but it reflects, perhaps, how much has been at stake for gospel, as a music and a community.

"Gospel has, and has always had, a relatively small audience as American musical genres go, but in part because of that it's born outsize hopes, dreams, and prayers.

"Keeping the faith - whether by refusing to appear at the Apollo or appearing with Dinah Shore - is a complicated process.

"A City Called Heaven honors those who devoted themselves to the gospel by showing how various, and how important, that devotion has been."


Comments welcome.


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