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Piano from Pilgrim Baptist Church used by Thomas Dorsey

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Catalog Data

Created by:
The Cable Piano Company, American, founded 1880  Search this
Used by:
Thomas Andrew Dorsey, American, 1899 - 1993  Search this
wood, metal, wire and vinyl
H x W x D (piano main body): 38 × 55 1/2 × 57 in. (96.5 × 141 × 144.8 cm)
H x W (piano leg at wideset point): 24 × 17 in. (61 × 43.2 cm)
baby grand pianos
Place used:
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States, North and Central America
This piano once resided in the historical Pilgrim Baptist Church of Chicago, Illinois, where it was used as a rehearsal piano by music director, Thomas A. Dorsey, the "Father of Gospel Music." Hired by influential pastor Junius C. Austin in the 1930s, Dorsey helped make Pilgrim one of the largest churches in the country. With Dorsey as its music director, the church became known as the birthplace of gospel music. Albertina Walker, Mahalia Jackson, Sallie Martin, Aretha Franklin, James Cleveland, The Staple Singers and The Edwin Hawkins singers are among those who have sung at the church. Famous members of the congregation include Bessie Coleman. When Pilgrim purchased new instruments for its music program, this piano was given to Pastor Austin. It would be played by Dorsey and others when they visited his home.
This piano is paneled with wood and structured around a cast iron frame. When the piano's fallboard is open, the piano 'name' or maker is seen in the center of the fallboard's underside in stylized gold lettering which reads [Conover]. The piano has all 88 keys of its key board still in place. There is also a small locking mechanism in the center of the key bed. The cast iron frame is tinted gold with manufacturer and patent information stamped throughout in varying methods and sizes. On the second frame metal bar closest to the keyboard there is raised text which reads [CUPOLA CONSTRUCTON BELL METAL FRAME CAPO D'ASTRO BRIDGE]. In a small triangular depression in the frame on the right, close to the keyboard, is the manufacturer's stamp as well as the piano serial number [66/CONOVER/MFR'D BY/The/Cable/Company/Chicago/259608]. On the top right side of the plate are the patent dates stamped near the treble bridge [1 6 20/PAT. 11 23 20/5 3 21]. On the front right portion of the plate is the name of the frame style in script lettering surrounded in an oval of stylized foliage [FAIRY GRAND]. On the wood of the sound board, centered above the hammer rail, is the soundboard trademark logo in a dark green rectangle with square, gold corners. The letters inside the logo are gold [CROWNSTAY/REG. U.S. PAT. OFF.]. In the middle of the left edge of the frame is the stamped number [66]. At the back edge of the frame are additional stamped numbers [7-17]. The top board prop for the lid is located on the right side of the frame.
African American  Search this
Communities  Search this
Gospel (Music)  Search this
Instrumentalists (Musicians)  Search this
Religion  Search this
Religious groups  Search this
Urban life  Search this
Credit Line:
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Rev. Richard C. Keller, Jr., Mr. Edward G. Keller and Ms. Paulene Austin Keller
Object number:
Restrictions & Rights:
No Known Copyright Restrictions
See more items in:
National Museum of African American History and Culture Collection
Musical Instruments
Musical Crossroads
On View:
NMAAHC (1400 Constitution Ave NW), National Mall Location, Culture/Fourth Floor, 4 053
Data Source:
National Museum of African American History and Culture