Video: The sound of music

NBC News with Brian Williams
By Kevin Tibbles Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/2/2007 11:23:16 AM ET 2007-01-02T16:23:16

A choir is singing just blocks from the birthplace of gospel music, but they're not in a church, they're in their neighborhood McDonald's.

"Gospel music is part of our community," says franchise owner Yolanda Travis. "It invites the soul, it lifts the soul, it's very spiritual."

It's all part of the revival of Bronzeville, on Chicago's south side. Gospel music was born here at Pilgrim Baptist Church. Eighty-eight-year-old Timuel Black remembers.

"There was a feeling of optimism that does not exist today, and music was a very important part of that," says Black, a professor emeritus at Roosevelt University. "It don't mean a thing, if you ain't got that swing."

But the neighborhood fell on tough times. The fabled church was destroyed by fire on Jan. 6, 2006.

Now, Bronzeville is banking on its history to make a comeback. Tributes to music adorn street corners; dilapidated public housing has been replaced by new condos. As the neighborhood taps into its storied past to help jumpstart a renaissance of sorts, gospel music is once again bringing the people together, even at McDonald's.

Gospel music fills Yolanda Travis' restaurant, inside and out. A mural tells the story. As gospel great Mahalia Jackson sings, Travis says sales have increased, but that's not the reason she does it.

"A lot of people are reaching out," says Travis. "They're reaching out for something to make them feel good, and why not make them feel good from McDonald's?"

And for customers, it's some spiritual nourishment.

"They're coming to hear something they've been hearing all their lives," says one diner. "They're coming to hear something their forefathers taught them."

Bronzeville is using its music to return for an encore.

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