On September 16, 1966, the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place came alive with the Gospel Festival Spectacular. "Spectacular" is undoubtedly the word today’s gospel music lovers would use to describe this lineup.
Among the featured groups to join the Rev. Clay Evans and his 150-voice Fellowship Radio Choir were the Rev. James Cleveland Singers, The Soul Stirrers and the Staple Singers, including a young Mavis Staples. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a special address.
This was not the first or last joint effort of gospel music and the civil rights movement. In fact, that subject is the at the heart of the new One Book One Chicago selection, I’ll Take You There by music critic Greg Kot.
The goal of the Gospel Festival Spectacular was to raise money toward the building of the new Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church at 45th Place and Princeton Avenue. The popularity and steady broadcasts of Rev. Evans and his Fellowship Radio Choir inspired considerable new church membership.
Rev. Evans was also involved in many of the Chicago Freedom Movement activities that were part of the expansion of civil rights action into Northern cities by King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Fellowship Church hosted meetings of Operation Breadbasket, an initiative that used the influence of black ministers to create economic and other opportunities in black communities. Rev. Evans also introduced King at the July 1966 "Freedom Sunday" rally at Soldier Field.
CPL holds several notable gospel music collections. Among those featured at the Harold Washington Library Center’s Special Collections and Preservation Division are 100 Jubilee Showcase television programs produced by Sid Ordower between 1963 and 1983, and the Rev. Clay Evans Archive, which contains almost 900 What a Fellowship Hour broadcasts spanning 1978 to 2000. While neither of these collections include a recording of the Gospel Festival Spectacular, both have historical footage of leading gospel voices like the Rev. James Cleveland and the Staple Singers. Please contact Special Collections to find out how to view these programs.
And be sure to visit the exhibit The Fellowship of Rev. Clay Evans at Harold Washington Library Center to see more documents, photographs and artifacts related to gospel, civil rights and his church.