Art Moderne beauty: First Church of Deliverance

Art Moderne beauty: First Church of Deliverance

(photo by Lee Bey)

Put your hands together for one of the city’s most striking pieces of architecture: First Church of Deliverance, an Art Moderne beauty at 4315 S. Wabash.

The church was built in 1939 and designed by Walter T. Bailey, the first African American to hold an architecture license in Illinois. Those terra cotta-clad twin towers were added in 1946, designed by Kocher Buss & DeKlerk. The building’s modernity wasn’t by chance. In the 1930s and 1940s, First Church was an exceedingly modern congregation.

The Rev. Clarence H. Cobbs was only 21 when he founded the predominantly black First Church congregation in 1929. The church began its radio broadcast in 1934, giving Cobbs and his 200-member choir a national reach and influence. The congregation’s choir revolutionized the sound of gospel music in 1939 when its organist and composer Kenneth Morris convinced Cobbs to install the newly-created Hammond electric organ at the church. The church’s gospel festivals in old Comiskey Park in the 1940s drew thousands. In 1953, the congregation became the first black church in the U.S. (quite possibly the world) to broadcast its services on television. WLS-TV carried those services live—a significant development, in retrospect—for 12 straight weeks.‚ Songs that later became gospel standards made their debut at the church under Hobbs, including the staple “How I Got Over.”

The church was designated a protected Chicago landmark in 1994, and is still well-kept and in service by its congregation.