Jazz in the Sanctuary: A historic look at sacred musical spaces in Philly and beyond

Church of the Advocate at 18th and Diamond, site of John Coltrane’s next-to-last Philadelphia performance | Photo via

From a field holler to Marvin Gaye’s “make me wanna holler,” music is historically a source of solcae for African Americans in their struggle for equal rights and social justice.

Rooted in the black experience, jazz both has been a sanctuary and found sanctuary in the church. Indeed, the church was one of the safe places where jazz was played during Philadelphia’s jazz heyday in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s.

In 1939, Philly-born Billie Holiday told the nation that “Southern trees bear a strange fruit.” In 1955, Louis Armstrong transformed Fats Waller’s song of unrequited love, “(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue,” into a civil rights anthem. Holiday, Armstrong and Waller were members of the Harlem Renaissance.

john-coltrane-france-651Jazz musicians and the jazz culture played a key role in breaking down barriers to racial integration. Nat Segal’s Downbeat Club, located at 11th and Ludlow streets, was the first integrated nightspot in Center City. So it was fitting that in his invocation at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Pastor A.R. Bernard Sr. noted how artists helped ignite the civil rights movement. Continue reading →