Mahalia Jackson, gospel's main lady

Mahalia Jackson
Thu, 1911-10-26

This date marks gospel singer Mahalia Jackson’s birthday in 1911. She was an African-American gospel singer, widely regarded as the best in the history of the genre, and is the first "Queen of Gospel Music."

Jackson was born in New Orleans and raised in the Mount Mariah Baptist Church where she sang in the choir. At a young age, Jackson knew she was going to be successful but Mahalia refused to sing secular music, a pledge she would keep throughout her professional life. Halie’s Aunt Bell told her that one day she would sing in front of royalty. Halie would one day see that come true.

She also suffered from racism and prejudice throughout her life, subjected to Jim Crow laws so prevalent in Southern states. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a major mentor in her life was not only because he was a Baptist and a devout Christian, but because he spoke of peace and freedom for all races.

In 1950 she became the first gospel singer to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall. She started touring Europe in 1952 and was hailed by critics as the "world's greatest gospel singer." In Paris she was called the Angel of Peace, and throughout the continent she sang to capacity audiences.

Mahalia Jackson became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world. At most of Dr. King's speeches and rallies she sang "Amazing Grace" and other uplifting songs. At the March on Washington in 1963, she sang "I've Been 'Buked, and I've Been Scorned" in front of 250,000 people. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech there. She also sang "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" at his funeral after he was assassinated. Her first hit was "Lift Every Voice and Sing," sometimes called the Black National Anthem.

When she died on January 27, 1972, funeral services were held in both Chicago and New York. Mrs. Coretta Scott King eulogized Mahalia during Chicago funeral as "a friend - proud, black and beautiful." Dr. Joseph H. Jackson, president of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. of which Mahalia was Official Soloist, delivered the eulogy Aretha Franklin closed the Chicago observance with a moving rendition of "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." Many landmarks are named after Mahalia Jackson.

The Face of Our Past:
Images of Black Women from Colonial America to the Present
Edited by Kathleen Thompson and Hilary Mac Austin
Copyright1999, Indiana University Press
ISBN 0-253-336535-X

To Become a Musician or Singer

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Jackson, Mahalia