Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson

New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, USA
Death 27 Jan 1972 (aged 59)
Evergreen Park, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Burial Metairie, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, USA
Memorial ID 535 · View Source
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Gospel Singer, Television Personality, Civil Rights Activist. She was known as the “Queen of Gospel”. She became one of gospel music’s all-time greats, known for her rich, powerful voice that cultivated a global following. Her concerts and recordings gained worldwide recognition for African-American religious music. Her singing combined powerful vitality with dignity and strong religious beliefs. She disliked being identified with nonreligious music, though her singing style revealed the influence of jazz and the blues. She worked with artists like Duke Ellington and Thomas A. Dorsey and also sang at the 1963 March on Washington at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She packed Carnegie Hall in New York City on a number of occasions, had a radio show, and sang for four presidents. Besides being a great singer, she was a highly successful businesswoman. Early in her life Mahalia Jackson absorbed the conservative music tradition of hymn singing of her native New Orleans and still found herself influenced by the secular sounds all around her of blues artists like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. She dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support the family. After moving to Chicago as a teen with the aim of studying nursing, she begin singing professionally with the choir of the Greater Salem Baptist Church (where she became a member) and with the Johnson Gospel Singers, one of the first professional touring gospel groups. In 1934 she received $25 for her first recording, "God's Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares." At that time however, music was just a sideline for she who worked as a laundress, studied beauty culture at Madam C. J. Walkers's and at the Scott Institute of Beauty Culture. She soon opened her own beauty shop, the first of her several business ventures. It was in 1929 that she met the composer Thomas A. Dorsey known as the "Father of Gospel Music" and in the mid 1930's they began a fourteen-year association of touring, with Jackson singing Dorsey's songs at church programs and at conventions. In 1946 she recorded her signature song "Move On Up a Littler Higher," which sold 100,000 copies and eventually passed the one million mark. By 1947 she had become the official soloist of the National Baptist Convention. Jackson's other multi-million sellers included "In the Upper Room" (1952), "Didn't It Rain" (1958), "Even Me" and "Silent Night" which further extended her fame. She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career. She also appeared in the movies Imitation of Life, St. Louis Blues, The Best Man and I Remember Chicago. By the mid-1950's she had her own short lived radio and television shows in Chicago and appeared frequently on national programs. During this time she also owned a flower shop in Chicago and toured as a concert artist, appearing more frequently in concert halls and less often in churches. In 1950 she became the first gospel singer to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall, and in 1958 the first to sing at the Newport Jazz Festival. As early as 1956, Civil Rights leaders called on Jackson to lend both her powerful voice and financial support to the rallies, marches, and demonstrations. She also performed in 1961 at President John F. Kennedy's inauguration and stirred a large audience with "How I Got Over" at the famous 1963 March on Washington. She first toured 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. She toured Europe again in 1962 and 1963-64, and in 1970 she performed in Africa, Japan, and India. In 1966, she published her autobiography Movin’ On Up. She devoted much of her time and energy to helping others. She was also committed to civil rights her entire life and established the Mahalia Jackson Scholarship Foundation for young people who wanted to attend college. For her efforts in helping international understanding she received the Silver Dove Award. She received an Honorary degree as Doctor of Music from Marymount College in 1971. She had a spectacular singing career, winning several Grammys, including two awarded posthumously. Mahalia Jackson died at age 60 becoming the greatest single success in gospel music. Well over 50,000 mourners filed past her mahogany, glass-topped coffin in tribute. Hundreds of musicians and politicians attended her funerals in Chicago and New Orleans. The United States Postal Service later commemorated her on a 32¢ postage stamp issued July 15, 1998, in the Gospel Singers set of the Legends of American Music series.

Bio by: Curtis Jackson





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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 535
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Mahalia Jackson (c.26 Oct 1912–27 Jan 1972), Find a Grave Memorial no. 535, citing Providence Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Metairie, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .