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Mahalia Jackson

General critical consensus holds Mahalia Jackson as the greatest gospel singer ever to live; a major crossover success whose popularity extended across racial divides, she was gospel's first superstar, and even decades after her death remains, for many listeners, a defining symbol of the music's transcendent power. With her singularly expressive contralto, Jackson continues to inspire the generations of vocalists who follow in her wake; among the first spiritual performers to introduce elements of blues into her music, she infused gospel with a sensuality and freedom it had never before experienced, and her artistry rewrote the rules forever. Born in one of the poorest sections of New Orleans on October 16, 1911, Jackson made her debut in the children's choir of the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church at the age of four, and within a few years was a prominent member of the Mt. Moriah Baptist's junior choir. Raised next door to a sanctified church, she was heavily influenced by their brand of gospel, with its reliance on drums and percussion over piano; another major inspiration was the blues of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.

By the time she reached her mid-teens, then, Jackson's unique vocal style was fully formed, combining the full-throated tones and propulsive rhythms of the sanctified church and the deep expressiveness of the blues with the note-bending phrasing of her Baptist upbringing. After quitting school during the eighth grade, Jackson relocated to Chicago in 1927, where she worked as a maid and laundress; within months of her arrival, she was singing leads with the choir at the Greater Salem Baptist Church, where she joined the three sons of her pastor in their group the Johnson Brothers. Although other small choir groups had cut records in the past, the Johnson Brothers might have been the first professional gospel unit ever; the first organized group to play the Chicago church circuit, they even produced a series of self-written musical dramas in which Jackson assumed the lead role. Her provocative performing style -- influenced by the Southern sanctified style of keeping time with the body and distinguished by jerks and steps for physical emphasis -- enraged many of the more conservative Northern preachers, but few could deny her fierce talent.

After the members of the Johnson Brothers went their separate ways during the mid-'30s, Jackson began her solo career accompanied by pianist Evelyn Gay, who herself later went on to major fame as one half of gospel's Gay Sisters. During the week, Jackson also went to beauty school, and soon opened her own salon. As her reputation as a singer grew throughout the Midwest, in 1937 she made her first recordings for Decca, becoming the first gospel artist signed to the label; curiously, none of the tracks she recorded during her May 21 session was by Thomas A. Dorsey, the legendary composer for whom she began working as a song demonstrator around that same time. (He even wrote "Peace in the Valley" with her in mind.) While her Decca single "God's Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares" sold only modestly, prompting a lengthy studio hiatus, Jackson's career continued on the upswing -- she soon began performing live in cities as far away as Buffalo, New Orleans, and Birmingham, becoming famous in churches throughout the country for not only her inimitable voice but also her flirtatious stage presence and spiritual intensity.

Jackson did not record again until 1946, signing with Apollo Records; although her relations with the label were often strained, the work she produced during her eight-year stay on their roster was frequently brilliant. While her first Apollo recordings, including "I Want to Rest" and "He Knows My Heart" fared poorly -- so much so, in fact, that the label almost dropped her -- producer Art Freeman insisted Jackson record W. Herbert Brewster's "Move on Up a Little Higher"; released in early 1948, the single became the best-selling gospel record of all time, selling in such great quantities that stores could not even meet the demand. Virtually overnight, Jackson became a superstar; beginning in 1950, she became a regular guest on journalist Studs Terkel's Chicago television series, and among White intellectuals and jazz critics, she acquired a major cult following based in large part on her eerie similarities to Bessie Smith. In 1952, her recording of "I Can Put My Trust in Jesus" even won a prize from the French Academy, resulting in a successful tour of Europe -- her rendition of "Silent Night" even became one of the all-time best-selling records in Norway's history.

Jackson's success soon reached such dramatic proportions that in 1954 she began hosting her own weekly radio series on CBS, the first program of its kind to broadcast the pure, sanctified gospel style over national airwaves. The show surrounded her with a supporting cast which included not only pianist Mildred Falls and organist Ralph Jones, but also a White quartet led by musical director Jack Halloran; although her performances with Halloran's group moved Jackson far away from traditional gospel towards an odd hybrid which crossed the line into barbershop quartet singing, they proved extremely popular with White audiences, and her transformation into a true crossover star was complete. Also in 1954 she signed to Columbia, scoring a Top 40 hit with the single "Rusty Old Halo," and two years later made her debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. However, with Jackson's success came the inevitable backlash -- purists decried her music's turn toward more pop-friendly production, and as her fame soared, so did her asking price, so much so that by the late '50s, virtually no Black churches could afford to pay her performance fee.

A triumphant appearance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival solidified Jackson's standing among critics, but her records continued moving her further away from her core audience -- when an LP with Percy Faith became a smash, Columbia insisted on more recordings with orchestras and choirs; she even cut a rendition of "Guardian Angels" backed by comic Harpo Marx. In 1959, she appeared in the film Imitation of Life, and two years later sang at John F. Kennedy's Presidential inauguration. During the '60s, Jackson was also a confidant and supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, and at his funeral sang his last request, "Precious Lord"; throughout the decade she was a force in the civil rights movement, but after 1968, with King and the brothers Kennedy all assassinated, she retired from the political front. At much the same time, Jackson went through a messy and very public divorce, prompting a series of heart attacks and the rapid loss of over a hundred pounds; in her last years, however, she recaptured much of her former glory, concluding her career with a farewell concert in Germany in 1971. She died January 27, 1972. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

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sraeya
Phenomenal and anointed voice. Her voice sounds like a piece of heaven. Glory to God.
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Mailk
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I dont get enough of her songs on her station.
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How Great Thou Art! To remember.... . . w h e n just fifteen.shor t yrs.ago.
Right as i watched. The first. TV. Broadcasts.
Re: 911 N.Y City,N.Y Attacks.
A sister and i. Were stunned,and amazed.
Yet. I was comforted. Via ...then Guru....Depa k Choprah.
O-h-h.My sister....sh e scolded.
"You can't. Believe. That foreign teacher. On everything they say..they might be in..out terror too!"
Poor sister...@th s t time. She didn't act. Like she knew. Who. Was for,or against learning.... . . . b l e s s today thankful.
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Even though. The middle-east Jerusalem. Is torn by infiltration & bigotry.
Our Jerusalem. In happiness. Should
encourage. All americans,al l faiths. To stop haterd,envy, of social classes. We need to progress best!!!!!!
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I keep declaring these lyrics. To so-called .....Manager s . . . . O w n e r s , y e t they don t. BELIEVE...PE R H A P S . . . . B E F O R E THEY SUFFER A SECOND DEATH...THEY WILL!!!!!!!! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
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Just remember. These words. The week of March 30th....as when you or i may encounter. Someone saying....." I DON'T, THINK I EVER KNEW YOU"........ . . . . . . " " . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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Here it being. A third Friday,of March. 2015 .
You never Broke-bread with me. The harvest. In which i first. Offered unto you.
Your acceptance. To mine first,and last offering.
To your recognized.
Had always. Been questioned. As if my. Motive was. Ulterior.and not basicly honest. Therefore. I will not.
Trust you,or your played-kindn e s s . You declined one. Request. For a spoon. To nourish. Myself. When i needed it. Another time .Your answer was negative. When human hunger pangs. Increased my healt
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This song. Takes me back. To the living room. In my earthly Mother. &Fathers' house....... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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bobnox2
There will always be a place in my life for Ms. Mahalia's voice.
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I lov her voice and all her songs!��
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I love her voice,her music, & her heritage.... . b e c a u s e . . . . s h e was a favorite. My late Mother. The late Mahalia Jackson..... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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I walk. Because few follow. The path to walk.
Guided by a instructed HOLY GHOST!
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TRUST& OBEY,there really isn't any other successful educated way!!!!!!!!
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Allow me telling you. What Satanic forces want.. ....... You to take their hand-a-shake , p e t their dawg, call them your budd-ee!!!!! ! D O N T DO IT!!!
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Magnificent
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absolutely amazing!
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She was and always Will be the best ever..truly God sent. ..
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A wonderful Woman of God i love u mother Mahalia Jackson
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jr9awso6
Mahalia Jackson rest in peace you are the mother and the queen of gospel and always will be much love God bless you
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i love listenin 2 mahalia i inspire her musik
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she infused gospel with a sensuality and freedom it had never before experienced,

This seems to have been written by a person who does not understand this music. A lot of words, little understandin g .
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hey Mahalia has me over here in tears glory to my God
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I loved her and her music, she was a great woman.
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queenquibbie
You can remove the term sensual from her bio and replace it with the term spirit- filled and powerful. Have you ever seen Mahalia with her cleavage showing and a skirt up to her belly button? No. Her music was to the praise, honor and glory of Jesus Christ - not to an unbelieving world that has no understandin g of what the music is all about, as the bio writer makes us very aware of by the term sensual.
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Amazing woman, amazing voice!
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Dad, please take special care of my sparrows (my grown kids) You gave to me on loan this day, please. You tell me not to worry-You have them and you shelter them. Dad, I believe, but please help my unbelief. Help my sparows, please!
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I miss her dearly and still love her God-given vocal talents....
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vcampbell7
God's Angel. Stay and stand stead fast. She only sang for the Lord. Bless God. Even when told it wouldn't sell. That is a testimony.
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America was blessed to claim her, and her soulful sounds!!
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I love her music. Excellent!!! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
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My mother sang gospel music. I miss her so much. When I hear Ms Jackson sing it just lifts' my heart up and let's me know that my Mom is listening right along with me. Corny right
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Makes entering heaven, a pleasure. I can listen, to her, all day. LB
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My Grandmother only records were Mahalias Amen. 14y 1m
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Such an inspirations and soothing voice..... Thanks!
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My grandma and mother filled the house with her beautiful and soulful voice!
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Wow she is so deep with her voice it Deeper then the blue sea love she is the Greatest of all
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I STILL LOVE LISTENING TO HER MUSICAL GENIUS?!?! AS WITH EVERY ONE ELSE'S COMMENTS IT WAS BROUGHT ON TO ME BY MY MOTHER AND FATHER THEY LOVED HER SO.MY NAME WAS INSPIRED BY HER?!?!? JUST TAKE OFF THE "M" AND PUT A "T" THERE THAT'S ME TRULY A INSPIRATION FOR ME?!?!?!?!
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I was introduced to Mahalia's music by by grandmother many years ago. I agree with those who say she is the greatest gospel artist ever.
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I love her so two !
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If there ever was an angel with a voice worthy to sing for our LORD, it was !
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We've all been blessed with the gift of singing!
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Sing-A-Joyfu l - N o i s e - U n t o - T h e - L o r d . . . have to be filled with joy-N-pleasu r e ( s ) and Treasuring the Beauty of Mahalia Jackson's VOICE!!!
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Hi
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Pandora you may want to check her birth date again. Wikipedia has her birth date as October 26,1911.
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Yes , one of the greatest ever.....
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I grew up on this
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pandalilly90 3
love here so much R.I.P
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kwamegrange
Powerful woman! Excellent.
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1959 is the year she came into by world, with a voice and style that was so rich it changed by life. The 60's was a rough time. Civil rights, war, civil unrest in America. A group of people changed their name from Negro to Africa-Ameri c a . Things from all difference worlds started to change. But Ms. Jackson's vocie and style took it home and you started to see want really matters.
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