A couple of days ago I posted about Sister Rosetta Tharpe and I felt today it would be worth spotlighting one of ladies who was around at the same time as her, though a couple of years old. If Sister Rosetta was The Godmother of Rock 'n' Roll then Mahalia Jackson was The Queen of Gospel.
Mahalia Jackson was born in New Orleans in 1911 and died 27th January 1972. More than 50,000 turned up to mourn her loss as they paid their last respects to the Gospel singer as she lay in wait at the Greater Salem Baptist Church in Chicago and on the day of the funeral maybe more than 6,000 folks turned up for the two hour funeral service in which she was eulogized by many including the wife of Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King. Aretha Franklin sang the closing of the proceedings with a rousing and heartfelt rendition of 'Precious Lord, Take My Hand', a song that Martin Luther King often requested Mahalia Jackson to sing at Civil Rights Rallies and that she sang at his funeral in 1968. It was Mahalia's signature song having spent 14 years performing it and other songs by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, known as the Father of Gospel Music, whom she met a couple of years after she had moved to Chicago.
Unlike Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia refused to sing secular music and she maintained that commitment her whole life, despite many offering her big bucks to do so, and even when she was enjoying the success as a result of good sales of her records and moving up to bigger venues rather than just Churches she didn't budge.
In 1950 she was the first Gospel artist to appear at Carnegie Hall and 1952 she toured Europe. Apparently whilst performing on Denmark's National Radio in 1949 her version of Silent Night (this is the version that was released in 1962, I couldn't find an earlier version) was requested by more than 20,000 listeners in search of a copy and the same song became one of the best selling singles in Norway.
With her mainstream success, Jackson was criticized by some gospel purists who complained about her hand-clapping and foot-stomping and about her bringing "jazz into the church".
Besides her singing she was known as an activist with her support for the Civil Rights Movement having first been involved at the invitation of Martin Luther King in 1956 to come to Montgomery, Alabama to sing in December. Despite several death threats she went and sang three numbers, 'I've Heard of a City called Heaven', 'Move On Up A Little Higher' and 'Silent Night'. At the famous March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom in 1963, where Dr King would give possibly his most famous 'I Have A Dream' speech, Jackson sang before MLK took the podium. The song she sang that day was 'I Been 'Buked and I Been Scorned'.
Her death in 1972 was due to heart failure and, just like Sister Rosetta, complications due to diabetes.
She recorded 25 albums, numerous singles and there are also a number of Compilations of her material released between 1975-2005.
The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences created the Gospel Music or Other Religious Recording category in 1961 for Jackson, making her the first gospel music artist to win the prestigious Grammy Award. She won four Grammy Awards, the most special being the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award given posthumously at the 1972 ceremony. In 1978 she was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and in 1997 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2008 she was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
"I sing God's music because it makes me feel free", Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, "It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues."
Let The Day Begin...Let The Day Start!