Chicago Gospel Choir

Chicago Gospel Choir

Robert Marovich in front of the First Church of Deliverance at 4315 S. Wabash. The church was founded in 1929, and this building—a Chicago landmark since 1994—was raised in 1939 and completed in 1946. - ADAM JASON COHENRobert Marovich grew up Catholic, and he didn't encounter gospel music for the first time till he was in his early 20s. It was January 1984, and he was earning a degree in American studies at Notre Dame University. "I was flipping through the dial on the radio, and I happened upon a Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer radio broadcast on a Sunday evening, " he says. "It just blew me away." That south-side Chicago church, founded in 1959 and still active today, has a famous choir called the Mighty Warriors. Marovich threw a blank tape into his cassette player to record the music, and he listened to it over and over. But though he'd soon develop a collector's avid interest in classic soul, harmony singing, and the blues—all forms of music that share plenty of DNA with gospel—it would be ten years before he followed up on his radio discovery. "I literally made a decision in about 1994 to really learn more about gospel, because I knew nothing, " he says.

Marovich, now 52, made up for lost time, reading books and buying records with a vengeance. He threw himself into the history of the music, and in short order he became one of the foremost authorities on Chicago gospel. He's shared his scholarship in a thoroughly researched book that convincingly establishes the city's crucial role in the origin of the music: A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music (University of Illinois Press) was originally scheduled for release in April, but got bumped up to March due to the volume of preorders on Amazon. It does for Chicago gospel what Robert Pruter's authoritative books have done for Chicago soul and doo-wop, chronicling its development and telling stories that would otherwise be lost to time.

A native of Hammond, Indiana, Marovich moved to Chicago in 1985, after finishing college, and took a job as a fund-raiser and grant writer for the Illinois Institute of Technology—the beginning of a long career in that field. He had practically no exposure to contemporary gospel (the tape he'd made was pretty much all he'd heard) till 1990, when his first wife, Patricia Andrews Marovich, was working as music teacher at west-side private school Providence St. Mel. Its students tackled current gospel hits by the likes of Kirk Franklin and O'Landa Draper, and a semiprofessional female vocal quartet called Voices of Providence, drawn from the senior class, occasionally sang traditional material. This piqued Marovich's curiosity, and he began buying a gospel record here and there.

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