You don’t need to go to church on Sunday to take a seat on a pew, gaze up at stained-glass windows, and be carried away by gospel music. In a small room inside a library at Baylor University, in Waco, Texas, you’ll find Lev’s Gathering Place, a special listening room where visitors can access the entire archive of Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project.
After journalism professor and gospel music scholar Robert Darden wrote a New York Times op-ed lamenting the gradual disappearance of historic gospel records, an investment banker named Charles Royce offered Darden and Baylor enough money to try and save them. Established in 2007, the BGMRP has worked tirelessly to preserve as many songs as possible from the Golden Age of gospel music, transferring the recordings from old, timeworn vinyl to high-quality digital files. Relying largely on loans and donations, the BGMRP has amassed thousands of gospel LPs, 45s, and 78s from popular performers like Mahalia Jackson to lesser-known groups like the Mighty Wonders of Aquasco, Maryland.
After they are handled by a small team of engineers in a soundproof basement room, the records are either returned to their owners or stored in a climate-controlled room nearby. Once archived, all music, recording details, LP jacket images, and photos become accessible for free online. Selections from Baylor’s collection can also be found in the National Museum of African American History & Culture, in Washington, D.C., as part of the museum’s permanent collection.
Lev’s Gathering Place (named for Baylor alumni and donor Lev H. Prichard III) invites Waco visitors to hear and read about the entire collection on iPad kiosks, alongside display cabinets with original artifacts. Grab a pair of headphones, take a seat on a reclaimed wooden pew, and get lifted up by music from Brother Joe May, Clara Ward, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Pilgrim Travelers, the Detroit Harmoneers, the Heavenly Spiritual Singers, and thousands of others. Some songs might be familiar, some haven’t been heard in over 50 years, but all are part of history.
Know Before You Go
Lev’s Gathering Place is located inside the Crouch Fine Arts Library of Moody Memorial Library at Baylor University, 1312 S. 3rd St, Waco, Texas.