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MAHALIA JACKSON

(1911 - 1972)

(born October 26, 1911, New Orleans, Louisiana; 
died January 27, 1972, Evergreen Park, Illinois)


Photo Carl Van Vechten

Mahalia Jackson, the "Queen of Gospel Song," wasborn in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 26, 1911. Jackson grew up singing gospel music at the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church where her father preached. At age sixteen, she migrated to Chicago where she supported herself by doing housekeeping and odd jobs. 

In Chicago, Jackson joined the Greater Salem Baptist Church and began touring with a gospel quintet. The beauty of her contralto voice and the increasing popularity of gospel music during the Depression brought Jackson success. She made her first recordings as a soloist in the mid-1930s for Decca and Apollo, eventually signing with Columbia records in 1954. 

Jackson resisted secular music saying, "When you sing gospel you have a feeling there is a cure for what's wrong. But when you are through with the blues, you've got nothing to rest on." Although Jackson declined to sing anything but gospel, she listened to and was heavily influenced by ragtime, jazz, and blues artists including Bessie Smith, Maime Smith, Ma Rainey, and Ida Cox. 

Jackson sang regularly at Chicago's South Side Greater Baptist Church and often collaborated with Thomas Dorsey, the "Father of Gospel Music." Originally a blues musician, Dorsey began to write sacred music early in the century, using the sounds and rhythms of blues and jazz. Over the years, gospel made a lasting impact on blues and soul artists, including Aretha Franklin, who listened to Mahalia Jackson sing at Rev. C. L. Franklin's New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. 

Jackson hosted a radio program in Chicago for CBS, and often her powerful voice concluded the day's local television broadcast. She recorded with Duke Ellington, packed Carnegie Hall on a number of occasions, and sang for four presidents. 

Jackson lent her prestige to the civil rights movement and became a prominent figure in the struggle. In 1955, she supported the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott led by Dr. Martin Luther King, and, at King'srequest, she sang "I've Been 'Buked and I BeenScorned" just before he delivered his "I Have aDream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington. 

Jackson was sixty-years-old years old when she died in the Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park, Illinois. At her funeral, Coretta Scott King described the singer as "black . . . proud . ..[and] beautiful." She recalled her husband saying of Jackson, "A voice like this comes, not once in a century, but once in a millennium." 

Just Mahalia, Baby: 
The Mahalia Jackson Story
By Laurraine Goreau

From the Publisher 
The story of Mahalia Jackson, the queen of gospel and a symbol of integrity, is the story of an era. As fast-paced and richly detailed as a novel, this book traces the development of the gospel movement and Jackson's central role in it, reaching back to recreate the world of the singer's youth. "Pithy, pungent, full of good solid writing and delightful black aphorisms".
Buy This Book


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