With a powerful and commanding voice, Mahalia Jackson was one of the greatest Gospel Singers of the world. Mahalia’s first exposure in singing came during her childhood, when she sang at the famous Mount Moriah Baptist Church. This was the stepping stone for her and she gradually became the most renowned and respected gospel singer in the U.S. One of her major hits in her early career was the “Move on up a Little Higher”, which made her an internationally acclaimed artist. Renowned artists such as Duke Ellington as well as Thomas A. Dorsey performed with her during a march in Washington in the year 1963, which was done at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mahalia was also called the “The Queen of Gospel" as she had a very powerful voice to go with her enormous talent. Well known throughout the world as a very active civil rights activist, Mahalia became one of the most respected, famous and influential gospel singers in the world. She also received lots of accolades and titles one of which being describe her as the most powerful woman of the black race in the entire United States by the famous entertainer Harry Belafonte.
Childhood & Early Life
Mahalia Jackson was born on October 26, 1911 to John A. Jackson Sr and Charity Clark. She grew up in the neighbourhood of Black Pearl area in the region of Carrolton area located in the uptown part of New Orleans. Mahalia was named after her aunt, who was known as Aunt Duke, popularly known as Mahalia Clark-Paul.
She grew up in a three-room house located at Pitt Street, which gave shelter to thirteen people as well as a dog. She lived in the house with her brother, Roosevelt Hunter, who was fondly known as Peter, along with her mom Charity Clark. Her mother played the part of both, a maid as well as a laundress. Several other aunts as well as cousins lived in the same house.
Mahalia, who grew up from the Pitt Street shack, had begun her singing at 4 at the well-known Mount Moriah Baptist Church. After she started her full-fledged career as a gospel singer she added the “i” to her name, which from her birth was Mahala.
Growing up in a very devout and faithful Christian family, Mahalia was a bit different from her parents and grew up admiring various songs of the famous blues artists such as Ma Rainey as well as Bessie Smith. Mahalia had a unique style of singing that contained lots of free movements and rhythms.
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Mahalia joined the Greater Salem Baptist Church when she decided to move to Chicago for studying nursing. Within a very short time, she became one of the most prominent members of the group known as Johnson Gospel Singers. She was a regular performer for the church for a number of years.
Mahalia soon started to work with the famous gospel singer and composer Thomas A. Dorsey. The duo travelled across the US and created a huge fan following.
During this time Mahalia also created a living by working for a number of professions such as a florist, laundress as well as a beautician.
Though she started making music albums from the early 30’s, she was able to get major success only when her album "Move on up a Little Higher" was released in 1947. Millions of copies of the album were sold making it the highest selling gospel song in the music history.
In 1958, Mahalia made her debut at the Newport Jazz Festival, which was held at Rhode Island, where she performed along with Duke Ellington. Ellington and Mahalia also released an album together with the name ‘Black, Brown, and Beige’.
Mahalia also actively participated and supported the Civil Rights Movement. She even sang at the request of her close friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the year 1963.
Awards & Achievements
The famous singer Fantasia Barrino, who was the winner of American Idol as well as a Grammy Award in the R&B category, will star in a biographical film based on the life and events of Mahalia. The story of the movie will be based on the book called ‘Got to Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel’.
National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences introduced ‘Gospel Music or Other Religious Recording’ category in honor of Mahalia. This made her the first gospel music artist to win the coveted Grammy Award.
Mahalia was inducted in the Music Hall of Fame of Louisiana in December 2008.
The Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts was remodelled and opened on 17th January 2009 with a grand ceremony which featured artists like Patricia Clarkson, Plácido Domingo as well as Robert Lyall.
Personal Life & Legacy
Mahalia got married in 1936 but the marriage ended in divorce after few years as her husband was an addicted gambler and he also forced her to sing various secular music compositions.
After living an active life, Mahalia died in Chicago on 27th of January in 1972. She died due to heart failure as well as a number of diabetes complications at the Little Company of Mary Hospital located in Evergreen Park, Illinois.
After her death, People of Chicago, as well as New Orleans, paid tribute to her. Around 50,000 people showed their respect and accompanied her mahogany and glass-topped coffin. The next day people again gathered at the Arie Crown Theater for her funeral service paying their final tribute in respect of the queen of gospel.