John Howard Hudson Sr. — a church musician, deacon and funeral director — tried to make it to all of his family’s birthdays, baptisms, weddings, proms and graduations.
That wasn’t easy to do with a clan that includes a wife, three sons, three grandchildren, eight brothers and sisters and 50 to 60 nieces and nephews.
Mr. Hudson, 72, who died Aug. 21 at Advocate Trinity Hospital of complications from a stroke two years ago, was a gifted piano player, organist and singer who was minister of music for 40 years at Pleasant Gift Missionary Baptist church. The church at 4526 S. Greenwood Ave. was founded by his Mississippi family and became a destination for African-Americans moving to Chicago from the South.
The strong gospel tradition Mr. Hudson fostered links the church to many stars. Pleasant Gift launched the careers of his cousin, actress-singer Jennifer Hudson, and nieces, the Nichols Sisters, who have appeared in a TV commercial. Another relative started the Canton Spirituals gospel quartet.
Mr. Hudson once helped organize a super-choir of more than 100 singers for a special performance at Medinah Temple with Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of gospel music, who melded religious lyrics with jazz and rhythm and blues.
At the annual Hudson family reunion, he’d direct the gospel standard “Don’t Forget the Family Prayer,” which traditionally closes the gathering, now in its 60th year. As the voices of as many as 250 Hudsons rose, “The musician in him would always say, ‘You’re dragging the song! Pick up the pace,’ ’’ said niece Marita Hudson Thomas.
He wore immaculate, color-coordinated clothes and a goatee so clean it looked as if he’d just left a barbershop. He brought the same attention to his cooking. To make gumbo, “John shopped all year,” said his wife Dorothy. “If Jewel had shrimp on sale, if Pete’s had wings on sale, he’d go there. We had three freezers.”
The fifth of 11 children, he was born at home at 3642 S. Dearborn St. and named for the doctor who delivered him. His parents were from Canton, Miss. Mr. Hudson’s father Percy, who had a fifth-grade education, once worked in a sawmill. His mother Marie, who went to school until 11th grade, was a pastor’s daughter. Young John liked to swim at Washington Park, his brother Donald said. He attended Carter Elementary, Englewood High School and Cortez Peters Business College.
At Pleasant Gift, “We had great music mainly because of John,” his brother said.
“Pleasant Gift had a good church because of what he did and the pastors they had,” said Bob Marovich, host of the Saturday morning “Gospel Memories” show on WLUW-FM and author of “A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music.” “The music minister is probably the most important person in the African-American church, right next to the pastor.”
For a time, Mr. Hudson sold insurance in Chatham for American General. He also sold shoes at Hobson’s at 47th Street and Prairie Avenue, where he outfitted singers including Lou Rawls, who started out doing gospel with Sam Cooke, and singer-Chicago Defender journalist Earl Calloway. He also provided shoes for Tabernacle soloist Doris Sykes and her entire choir, known for their style. Occasionally, he sold shoes to stars who’d wander over from the Regal Theater, including comic Redd Foxx.
When the elegant Dorothy Sutton came to his store, he took notice. “He copied my telephone number off the layaway receipt,” she said. They were married for 48 years.
Together, they operated Hudson Funeral Home, 8745 S. Commercial Ave. In 2008, after the murders of Jennifer Hudson’s nephew, mother and brother, John and Dorothy Hudson handled the funeral arrangements.
To unwind, Mr. Hudson liked visiting his Mississippi “kin,” often going South four times a year. He loved pound cake and watching “Wheel of Fortune” on TV.
Survivors also include sons John Jr., Paris and Prentice; three grandchildren; sisters Ruth, Julia and Hattie; and brothers Clarence, Robert, Charles, Michael and Donald.
A viewing is planned from noon to 8 p.m. Thursday at Pleasant Gift, preceded by a musical tribute from 6 to 7 p.m. Visitation is planned from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday at Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave., with the funeral there at 11 a.m. Mr. Hudson will be buried in a suit of his favorite color — blue — in a casket with blue lining.