WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 26: Raise your voice and learn about the Queen of Gospel today—it’s the 100th birth anniversary of Mahalia Jackson. From the age of 4, Mahala (who later inserted the “i” into her name) sang in the Church, later moving to enormous concert halls, presidential inaugural balls and even the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr. The African-American singer best known for her powerful contralto voice recorded approximately 30 albums during her career. Most recently, Time Magazine editors selected Mahalia’s “Move On Up a Little Higher” for the exclusive list of 100 “Best Songs” since 1923. (Learn more from the official Mahalia Jackson website.)
Born on this date in 1911, Mahala Jackson was a resident of New Orleans. After her mother’s early death, Mahala was sent to live with her Aunt Duke, where she was beaten and pushed to work long days. At 16, the singer escaped to Chicago; it wasn’t long before Mahalia met Thomas Dorsey, the “Father of Gospel Music,” and began a 14-year co-tour that led to a recording contract. (Wikipedia has details.) In 1948, she recorded “Move On Up a Little Higher”—a single that sold 8 million copies. Two years later, the Queen of Gospel became the first gospel singer to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall; Mahalia began hosting her own Sunday night radio show in 1954; and two years following, she performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, where all of America became familiar with her voice and her style of music.
Mahalia Jackson wasn’t just famous in the U.S.—her rendition of “Silent Night” became one of the best-selling songs in Norway’s history. In Paris, she was known as the Angel of Peace. (Hear Mahalia’s “Amazing Grace” here.) The Queen of Gospel refused to stop her demanding carer even after strict doctor’s orders, and in January of 1972, she died of heart failure.
Following a 1993 book, “Got to Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel,” a movie is set to be released next year that will star former American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino as the famed singer.