Culture

Remembering Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Gospel

Remembering Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Gospel

All hail the Queen!

Mahala Jackson was born October 26, 1911, in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Charity Clark and Johnny Jackson, Biography.com reports. She started her career at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church, where she began singing at just 4-years-old, changing the spelling of her name to “Mahalia” once she began performing professionally. Jackson was influenced by blues artists like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, eventually incorporating the soul of blues performances into her spiritual music, eventually becoming one of the greatest and most respected musical artists of the 20th century.

Jackson’s most successful recordings, “Move On Up a Little Higher,” sold millions of copies in 1947, becoming the highest-selling gospel single in history. Jackson performed across the globe, making numerous radio and television appearances and becoming one of the first artists to perform in front of a racially integrated audience during her October 4, 1950 show in Carnegie Hall. Jackson went on to do several tours abroad, becoming a fan favorite in France and Norway, eventually landing her own gospel program on the CBS TV network in 1954. 

Jackson performed with famed artist Duke Ellington and released a joint album with the jazz musician in 1958 entitled Black, Brown, and Beige. She also appeared in the film Imitation of Life in 1959 and sang at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Her international success made many of Jackson’s songs a hit and gave her even more influence in the world. She became a staunch civil rights advocate, supporting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at every turn, even performing “I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned” at the 1963 March on Washington. Jackson sang at King’s funeral in 1968, withdrawing from political activities after the death of her friend. 

Her published autobiography, Movin’ On Up, chronicles much of Jackson’s life, tragedy, and triumph. In 1971, she performed her last concert in Munich, Germany, passing the next year of a heart attack on January 27, 1972.

Jackson left an indelible mark on the gospel community and the world at large. We are grateful for her service and her work.

Rest in peace, Mahalia Jackson.

Photo Courtesy of Milwaukee Courier