Lucy Smith Collier Papers, 1891-2002
Biographical Note: Elder Lucy Smith, Lucy Smith Collier
Scope and Content: Lucy Smith Collier Papers, 1891-2002
Biography and Family Records | Manuscripts | Churches
Gospel Music | T.R.M. Howard Campaign | Clippings
Photographs | Audiovisual (A/V) | Oversize
|Provenance:||Donated by Lucy Smith Collier, July 1996. The photographs in Box 8 of the collection were donated by Eugene Smith in September 1999, June Norfleet in December 1999 and Gladys Beamon Gregory in September 1999.|
|Size:||9 linear feet (11 archival boxes)|
|Repository:||Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library (Chicago Public Library), 9525 S. Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60628|
|Citation:||When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Lucy Smith Collier Papers (Box #, Folder #), Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library.|
|Processed By:||Marcia Walker, Harsh Archival Processing Project|
|Supervised By:||Michael Flug, Senior Archivist, Harsh Archival Processing Project|
Elder Lucy Smith was born Lucinda Madden on a plantation in Woodstock, Ga., on January 14, 1875. Her family, which consisted of her mother and five siblings, lived impoverished in a one-room log cabin. In 1896, Lucy Madden married William Smith, and the couple moved to a nearby farm, where in 1898 the couple had their first of nine children. In 1908, the family moved from Woodstock to Athens, Ga., where William Smith abandoned the family. Lucy took in sewing to support her children in Athens and later in Atlanta. Faring no better in Atlanta than she had in Athens, Lucy and the children left for Chicago, arriving in the city on May 1, 1910. William Smith remained in Athens, but later rejoined the family and stayed with them in Chicago until his death in 1938.
A Baptist since age 12, in Chicago Lucy Smith affiliated first with Olivet Baptist Church and then briefly with Ebenezer Baptist. In 1912 she left the Baptist faith altogether and joined Stone Church, a predominantly white Pentecostal assembly at 37th Street and Indiana Avenue. Smith would later model her own church, All Nations Pentecostal Church, after Stone Church, which was racially mixed. At Stone Church, Lucy Smith became a convert to Pentecostal worship and beliefs, particularly faith healing, a gift that she would practice within a few weeks of attending Stone Church.
Sensing a call to start her own ministry, Lucy Smith left Stone Church and formed a small prayer band in 1916 with two other women at her home on Langley Avenue, from which grew the Langley Avenue All Nations Pentecostal Church in 1918. Largely a tent-mission in the early 1920s, the church moved around frequently. In December 1926, All Nations began to worship at a building at 3716 Langley Avenue—the first church ever built by a woman pastor in Chicago and the first new construction of a church building by African Americans in over two decades. With the help of a small band of “saints,” by the 1930s the church grew astronomically, reportedly having as many as 5,000 members, and became a legend on the South Side.
Smith was known for being a faith healer who claimed to have healed over 200,000 people. All Nations Pentecostal Church was also instrumental in providing food and clothing to thousands of Chicagoans during the Great Depression and charity for impoverished black families in Bronzeville. All Nations was known for its spectacular gospel music, which could be heard at the church or through its radio broadcast program, which began in 1933, the “Glorious Church of the Air.” The first live worship program ever to broadcast from a black church, it would air each week until 1955 on stations WIND, WCFL and WGES, respectively. The programs fueled the church’s charitable resources and drew greater attention to Smith’s abilities as a spiritual faith healer. Heard as far away as Mexico, “Glorious Church of the Air” set the pace and format for live broadcast worship services and helped to spawn a number of similar programs by other churches in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
The first black woman to pastor a major congregation in Chicago, Elder Lucy Smith led a congregation that included a significant number of whites and other minorities as well as people from various socioeconomic levels. From its inception, All Nations was almost exclusively administered by women, a sharp contrast to more mainline black churches in Bronzeville, where women’s ministry and leadership were largely opposed. Nevertheless, All Nations and Elder Lucy Smith formed fellowships with other black churches in Bronzeville, including Institutional AME Church, the Rev. Mary G. Evans of Cosmopolitan Community Church, the Rev. Joseph Evans of Metropolitan Community Church, the Rev. Joseph Branham of South Shore Baptist Church, the Rev. J.C. Austin of Pilgrim Baptist Church and the Rev. Clarence Cobbs of First Church of Deliverance.
Elder Lucy Smith died on June 18, 1952. According to the Chicago Defender, Smith’s funeral was “the largest funeral in Chicago history,” with an estimated 60,000 people paying their respects. Her body laid in state at her home at 3810 S. Parkway, A.A. Rayner’s Chapel and All Nations Pentecostal Church. An estimated 50,000 people lined the streets to watch the 75-car processional to the Lincoln Cemetery, where Smith was buried beside her husband and several of her children. She was survived by three of her children: Ardella, Henry and John.
A few years prior to her death in the late 1940s, Elder Lucy Smith relinquished control of All Nations to her youngest daughter, the Rev. Ardella Smith. By 1955, however, conflicts over church debt and property ownership led to the split of the All Nations Pentecostal congregation, which brought an end to its radio broadcast and the ministry of Ardella Smith. Those opposed to Ardella’s leadership eventually left and reformed as a separate All Nations Pentecostal church. Devoted, however, to the memory of Elder Lucy Smith, they still claimed her as their beloved founder. Ardella converted to Catholicism and started a successful catering business called Vogue Catering. As for the building located at 518 Oakwood Boulevard, which housed All Nations Pentecostal Church beginning in the late 1930s, the entire east wall mysteriously collapsed in the late 1950s, and what had been a beautiful “modernistic” structure was demolished.
One of Chicago’s most gifted gospel artists, Lucy Smith Collier grew up in All Nations Pentecostal Church as the granddaughter of Elder Lucy Smith. Lucy Smith Collier was born to Elder Lucy Smith’s eldest daughter, Viola, and her husband, James Austin, in 1924. Just two years later in 1926, Viola passed away. At the age of 2, Lucy served as the mascot for the Smith Jubilee Singers, which included her father, James, and her aunt Ardella. First called “Little Lucy” by her grandmother, Lucy Collier demonstrated a phenomenal talent for music at a young age. Trained at the Chicago Musical College, “Little Lucy” desired to become a classical musician. When asked by her grandmother to join her in the work of All Nations, however, she willingly surrendered that goal. By the age of 12, she was assigned responsibility for directing the music at All Nations.
In her teens, Lucy Smith Collier formed the Lucy Smith Singers, which included herself, Gladys Beamon Gregory, Catherine Campbell and Sarah McKissick Simmons. Later called the “doo wop girls” because of their particular harmonic sound, the group sang and recorded music into the early 1950s. “Come Unto Me,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” and “Down on My Knees” were just three of their signature songs. And by 1948 at the age of 24, Lucy had already published her first song, “What a Blessing in Jesus I’ve Found,” and worshippers packed All Nations just to hear her sing, “Tell Jesus All.” Though primarily an organist, Lucy Smith Collier’s classically trained soprano voice captivated the congregation. The music of All Nations Pentecostal Church was a central part of its ministry and was an amalgam of Baptist hymnody, blues intonation and jazz rhythms. A choir of a hundred voices sang in an enthusiastic, “down home” manner and choreographed some of their numbers, including “Ain’t That Good News.”
After the death of Elder Lucy Smith, Lucy Smith Collier joined the Roberta Martin Singers, and in addition to singing and playing piano for the group, she arranged most of their music. “This I Do Believe” and “My Lord and Master” were two of the Roberta Martin Singers’ most recognized songs written by Collier. While a member of the Roberta Martin Singers, Collier played for a number of years for the Barrett Singers and was an integral part of both groups as they reached national and even international acclaim. The crowning achievement of her career came in 1981 when a ceremony in Washington, D.C. inducted most of her gospel songs into the Smithsonian Institution.
- Best, Wallace. “Smith, Lucy Madden.” Women Building Chicago 1790 to 1990: A Biographical Dictionary. Eds. Rima Schultz and Adele Hast. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001.
- Best, Wallace. Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915-1952. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.
- Reagon, Bernice Johnson, ed. We’ll Understand It Better By and By: Pioneering African American Gospel Composers. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
This collection has been arranged into several series that document the history of Elder Lucy Smith and family, All Nations Pentecostal Church and aspects of Chicago’s early black gospel music scene. The series include: biography and family records, manuscripts, organizational church materials primarily from All Nations Pentecostal Church (but also includes programs from churches who fellowshipped with and maintained a relationship with All Nations), gospel sheet music, material from Dr. T.R.M. Howard’s 1958 Congressional Campaign, clippings, audio and a number of photographs. Related collections at the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection include: the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church Archives, the Dr. T.R.M. Howard Papers, the Martin and Morris Music, Inc. Papers, the Loudella Evans Reed Papers, the Melva Williams Papers and the Jubilee Showcase Collection at the Harold Washington Library Center.
Series 1: Biography and Family Records
This series contains a short biography of Elder Lucy Smith but is largely composed of funeral programs of members of the Smith family, including Elder Lucy Smith.
Series 2: Manuscripts
This series includes a history of All Nations Pentecostal Church written by C.C. Holmes, a long-time member of the church, as well as a book manuscript of Wallace Best’s Passionately Human, No Less Divine (2005) that was given to Lucy Smith Collier and included in the papers at her request.
Series 3: Churches
Organizational records including yearbooks and programs of All Nations Pentecostal Church, in addition to other materials related to the church, are included in this series. Following these records are materials related to other churches with whom All Nations maintained close relationships and fellowships, including First Church of Deliverance under the Rev. Clarence Cobbs and Pilgrim Baptist Church.
Series 4: Gospel Music
The vast majority of this series includes gospel sheet music from such artists as Thomas Dorsey, Lucy Matthews (Lucy Smith Collier), Roberta Martin, William Dawson and James Cleveland. Also included are several gospel music programs, including a 1981 Smithsonian Institution program on Roberta Martin and the Roberta Martin Singers.
Series 5: T.R.M. Howard Campaign
This series contains materials related to the 1958 congressional campaign of medical doctor, philanthropist and civil rights activist Theodore Roosevelt Mason (T.R.M.) Howard. Howard ran as a Republican against Rep. William Dawson, a Democrat affiliated with Chicago’s political leadership. The materials include programs from various Howard fundraisers and document some activities of the ministers who backed Howard in the election.
Series 6: Clippings
Clippings related to the life of Elder Lucy Smith and her youngest daughter, Ardella Smith, as well as those related to Lucy Smith Collier comprise this series.
Series 7: Photographs
One of the largest series in this collection, the photographs are of Elder Lucy Smith, Lucy Smith Collier, Ardella Smith and other members of the Smith family. Also in this series are several photographs of the early leadership and members of All Nations Pentecostal Church. A number of photographs document the funeral of Elder Lucy Smith in 1952. Also included are photographs of gospel groups including the Roberta Martin Singers, the Lucy Smith Singers, the Norfleet Brothers and a rare photograph of Thomas A. Dorsey taken about 1930.
Series 8: Audiovisual (A/V)
This series contains recordings of the “Chicago Gospel Pioneers” on record and compact disc.
Series 9: Oversize
These oversize items include a poster-size flyer of the 1981 Smithsonian Institution’s program on Roberta Martin and the Roberta Martin Singers, clippings on Elder Lucy Smith’s funeral and a 1950 Ebony article chronicling Elder Lucy Smith as a faith healer.
Lucy Smith Collier Papers, Predominant dates, 1928-1966, Inclusive dates, 1891-2002