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LOS ANGELES - It is Wednesday night in Inglewood, just

a block from the Hollywood Park racetrack, its card casino and other earthly

temptations. Overhead, jetliners roar on their descent into Los Angeles

International Airport.

But none of that seems to register with Margaret Pleasant Douroux as she

sits at the keyboard in the sanctuary of Greater New Bethel Baptist Church and

starts to rehearse the congregation's choir. The 16 women and two men are

practicing one of Douroux's many songs. After work and dinner, the choristers

look tired. Their harmonies aren't meshing, their pronunciations aren't crisp.

But excuses aren't good enough for the 65- year-old Douroux, a nationally

revered - and feared - teacher and composer of the gospel art.

"Come on, altos . . . come on, tell us!" she shouts, acting like a sergeant

with exasperating recruits and then like the encouraging grandmother she is.

Suddenly, the harmonies meld. Choir members, swaying and waving, sing from

the heart, and Douroux seems pleased yet unapologetic about working them hard.

After all, she stresses, singing gospel is a form of prayer. "The music

ministry is so crucial to the black church. I'm kind of protective of it,"

Douroux, the daughter and sister of pastors, says later. "I want it to be as

special as I think God would want it to be."

Her catalog of more than 200 songs - including "Give Me a Clean Heart,"

"Trees" and "Mercy That Suits" - has landed her in the Detroit-based

International Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Six of her pieces appear in the

interdenominational African American Heritage Hymnal. At a recent gospel

convention in Dallas, more than 300 musicians lapped up her humorous, stern and

deeply religious lectures like freshmen before a storied professor. Music

experts on university campuses have included her and her traditional style of

gospel in their research.

"Every Sunday morning, some church somewhere in the United States is

singing a Margaret Douroux song. She is that prominent," said Jacqueline

Cogdell DjeDje, chairwoman of the ethnomusicology department at the University

of California at Los Angeles.

But one goal still eludes Douroux. For more than 20 years, she has tried to

establish what she calls Gospel House, a museum and concert hall in the Los

Angeles area that would celebrate music that has nourished black churches and

deeply influenced the secular world, from Motown to Broadway, since the 1920s.

"It's a rich heritage," she explained. "It has been a strong foothold for black

America for its entire history, and it is one of the truest art forms of


Douroux, who looks a decade younger than her age, composes mainly away from

the piano, often hooking onto an idea while driving or doing chores in her

suburban ranch-style home.

In 1983, Douroux formed her foundation. Such a museum, she said, would

showcase the sound that marries blues and jazz with traditional hymns and

spirituals as it speaks to God and celebrates him.

Its improvisational forms, passionate overriding solos and hand-clapping

beats at first shocked conservatives in the 1920s. But gospel pioneers such as

Chicago composer and pianist Thomas Dorsey became very popular as the music

took hold in many black churches.

Over time, gospel powerfully influenced mainstream music, too, through the

likes of Aretha Franklin and Al Green and the 1969 success of "Oh Happy Day" by

the Edwin Hawkins Singers. More recently, it has absorbed rock and rap.

To preserve all of that, Douroux sought at various times a facility with a

concert hall, classrooms for singing lessons, a library of sheet music and deep

archives of recordings.

But she acknowledges her business inexperience may have hampered matters as

real estate prices kept rising. No big-bucks patron pledged what Douroux now

estimates needs to be

$12 million. And, some city officials were leery of the religious

overtones and her group's ability to run a center.

Finally, two years ago, some good news. About $38,000 in grants, mainly

from UCLA's Center for Community Partnerships, funded a project called Gospel

Archiving in Los Angeles. It linked the school's ethnomusicology archive and

Douroux's foundation.

Douroux is pleased the university has the collection of 400 LPs and

cassettes, including many rarities donated to her foundation, but she still

holds out hope for her museum. She calls the efforts to found Gospel House a

"test of commitment, because once you have a vision, it's always in your heart."

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