“All Hail, the Queen of Gospel”! Does Aretha Franklin spark a thought? Shirley Caesar? Mahalia Jackson is the woman who has earned that title among others in American Gospel. This biography of Jackson aims to clarify the height of success that Jackson acquired and why she is called the “World’s Greatest Gospel Singer,” we begin with the early influences of New Orleans and her breakthrough moments in Chicago, Mahalia Jackson was born October 11, 1912, on Waters Street of New Orleans, Louisiana. Jackson was the third of six children and lived in what she called a three room “shotgun shack” near the Mississippi River levee.
Both sets of Jackson’s grandparents were born into slavery and freed after the Civil War. Jackson learned the struggles of the family’s history through her Uncle Porter, her mother’s brother. Jackson’s mother died suddenly when she was five years old of an unknown illness, and her father, a barber who was not often present during her life brought her to live with a relative, Mahalia Paul or “Aunt Duke. ” Young Jackson went was far as the eighth grade until she was hired a laundress to bring income to the household in addition to helping with her aunt as a domestic worker in various positions.
Mahalia Jackson Essay Example
Her father often contributed money for Jackson and her brother, William. Jackson stayed with Aunt Duke for the years she remained in New Orleans. In New Orleans, there was a multicultural influence on Jackson’s music education and New Orleans was full of music while she was growing up. The brass bands were prominent. There was still music on the showboats on the Mississippi, there were all the cabarets, and cafes, where musicians such as Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver played Ragtime music, jazz, and the blues were played all over town. Jackson enjoyed All Saints Day, where thousands of residents came to picnic and sing songs.
This day tied together her loved of gospel with the fellowship of the festivities. Jackson loved to sing amongst the congregation. At Mount Moriah Baptist Church, where she had the foot tapping and hand clapping praises that she enjoyed so much. Jackson enjoyed congregation singing more than singing in the choir. Jackson compared choir singing to anthems and congregation singing to testifying to the Lord. Mahalia Jackson credits the Sanctified and Holiness churches of the South as the great influences in her life. Even though Jackson was a Baptist, she experienced Holiness worship of the church because she lived next door to one.
Jackson described the praise in these words, “Those people had no choir and no organ. Everybody in there sang and the clapped and stomped their feet and sang with their whole bodies. ” Jackson went on to say, “They had a powerful beat, a rhythm we held onto from slavery days and their music was so strong and expressive it used to bring tears to my eyes. ” Mahalia Jackson remained in New Orleans until she was sixteen. In 1927, she moved to Chicago. Jackson’s father brought back discouraging news of his travels to Chicago, sharing stories of Al Capone and mob scene and decreeing that the hustle and bustle of city life was too much.
That information only deterred Jackson for a short while. With money that she had saved from her work as a nursemaid and laundress she traveled to Chicago in 1928. She admitted that she was frightened but she thought the church would be able to protect her from the gangsters but she was determined to go. Jackson traveled North Chicago accompanied by her Aunt Hannah. Once in Chicago, she resided with Aunt Hannah on the Southside, which was the second largest African American population in the U. S. , second only to Harlem, NY. Jackson continued domestic labor in the new city and did not return to New Orleans for fifteen years.
Jackson often said she owed her sense of self to the city of Chicago. Here in Chicago she found her second home The Greater Salem Baptist Church led by a Rev. Johnson. Mahalia Jackson stated that the Great Depression was responsible for her career in gospel singing. In 1929 during the Great Depression, Jackson became a member of the Johnson Singers, a singing and entertainment group. The Johnson singers were arranged of the three Johnson brothers, Prince, Robert, Wilbur, a young woman named Louise Barry and Jackson. Jackson tried her hand at acting while with the Johnson group.
Robert Johnson wrote and directed plays like Hellbound, From Earth to Glory, and The Fatal Wedding. Jackson was often the leading woman. Prince was the arranger of the music they performed, he also had his own style of playing, and Jackson seemed to fit right in with the rhythm. Jackson also described the unique style as a bounce that made them popular from the start and they decided on the name the Johnson Singers. As they got more attention in Chicago’s Southside churches, the Johnson Singers improvised on the music, strayed from the score, and gave the songs a spin of their own.
The Johnson Singers earned the titles of the “first Negro gospel group in Chicago”. In addition to the group being recognized, Prince was unofficially named the” first gospel pianist” in the city. In time, the Johnson Singers became swamped with invitations to sing in churches downstate and Indiana. Mahalia Jackson only formally took lessons at Professor Dubois South Side music school. There by the professor, urged her to change her singing style from a “hollering” to a “slow and sweeter pace. While making money with the Johnson Singers, Jackson saved money for singing lessons and she sought out Professor Dubois, a great tenor and was a noted concert and operatic singer.
During the lesson Jackson showed off her “bounce” that she perfected with the Johnson Singers. While singing the spiritual “Standing in the Need of Prayer” Jackson recalled her mannerisms during the song, “I had such a rhythm inside of me that I kept picking up the beat and out of the corner of my eye I could see the Professor frowning. ” Professor DuBois told Jackson that was no way to sing that song.
He instructed her to sing in a real sad and solemn way. Jackson tried again but that style was too slow and mournful for her taste. Jackson was told that her singing style is not a credit to the Negro race. And that she should sing songs so that white people can understand them. Jackson felt confused about what she heard. Jackson as felt it was too polished. She paid for her lesson with Professor DuBois and left. It turned out to be her one and only singing lesson. In 1935, during a church social, Mahalia Jackson met a young man.
She was twenty-four and working as house cleaner in a hotel and did not venture out socially unless it was church related. The young man was a graduate of Fisk University and Tuskegee Institute. His name was Isaac “Ike” Hockenhull. They dated for about a year and were married. He encouraged her business aspirations but realized the great potential of her developing musical talent as a bigger source of income. He was did not approve of her time spent singing gospel. He felt that her singing gospel music was not educated. The music was not the only thing Jackson and her husband had differing views on.
Isaac Hockenhull held a love for horseracing. She was too far inside the church to approve of gambling. Not surprisingly, Hockenhull and Jackson separated and later divorced. Mahalia Jackson and the “Father of Gospel Music,” composer Thomas A. Dorsey, also of Chicago met in passing in 1929. By the late 1930’s Mahalia Jackson began to work with Dorsey, the leading gospel composer and coach of the day. He was the choirmaster of many of the Baptist churches in Chicago. He officially became her musical advisor and accompanist from 1937 to 1946. Jackson sang Dorsey’s songs in church rograms and at conventions to promote the new songwriter’s compositions.
Her signature performance of “Precious Lord Take My Hand,” composed by Dorsey, became one of the most requested songs in her growing repertoire He assessed Jackson’s talent as far above average and aimed to be her mentor and coach. Dorsey soon realized Mahalia Jackson was born to sing and needed no outside direction. Dorsey wrote “Peace in the Valley” for Jackson in 1937, which also became a gospel standard. In 1939, Jackson popularizes the recording and becomes a star. Dorsey had dedicated several gospel songs to her, and these became her trademark.
Their fourteen years of musical association was highly successful. Mahalia Jackson had many influences on her singing career. Musicians from the rock n’ roll, gospel industry and rhythm & blues genres filled the roster. Little Richard said of Jackson that she is “the true queen of spiritual singers. ” Her roots from New Orleans were very important to her success and religious passion was paramount in Jackson’s life. Singing in a grainy, full-throated soprano voice employing slurs and blue notes, Mahalia Jackson brought a heightened drama and syncopated bounce to her readings giving her gospel success.
She was invited to be the soloist of the National Baptist Convention in 1947. In her career, she recorded over thirty albums and had over fifty hit songs. Jackson’s most popular song sold over a million copies and said to be the most lucrative gospel song in history. Her well known performances include are Move Up a Little Higher, How I Got Over, Take My Hand, Precious Lord, The Upper Room, We Shall Overcome, and What Child Is This. Her most popular albums are Live at Newport, a Mighty Fortress, the Power and the Glory, and Just as I Am.
Some of her most popular song was sung at important venues in history. For example, she sang for Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, performing at the latter is inaugural ceremony. In 1952, Jackson toured Europe for the first time. In Europe, she received the same accolades that she was receiving in America. She was introduced to Europe by a man name Hugh Panassie a French jazz historian. Panassie played all the Jackson recordings on the radio and she gained recognition in Great Britain and Western Europe.
She earned another nickname from the Parisians, “The Angel of Peace. Each of her overseas performances were to sold-out and most were standing room only, which is a remarkable feat for a gospel artist. At London’s famed Royal Albert Hall, critic Max Jones spoke of her charm. “When she dances those little church steps at the end of a rocking number, you need a heart of stone to remain unsmiling. ” (Broughton, 54) In a later conversation with Max Jones, she said, “I don’t work for money. I sing because I love to sing. ” (Broughton, 54) While touring Europe she often performs night after night but she insisted on singing fifteen to twenty selections at each concert.
Jackson had the opportunity to perform in Africa, Japan, and India. While performing in Europe from 1952 to 1964 she met people of power such as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and members of the royal family in Japan. The many historic accounts of Jackson’s life usually speak of her generosity to family, friends, and young people. She received the Silver Dove Award for her work of quality doing the most good for international understanding with the foundations and charities she help support. The Civil Rights Movements was very important to her and her involvement demonstrates that.
She participated in the Alabama Bus Boycott and was a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). With the time spent both in New Orleans and in Chicago, she was able to see two different sides of the Civil Rights Movement. Her songs and culture were all influenced by the movement. Mahalia Jackson struggled with heart ailments and her weight in her life. Jackson was a hard worker and she performed most concerts in pain. She let the medical conditions worsen and she had to cancel tour dates during the summer months of 1963 to recuperate.
While resting at home, Dr. Martin Luther King asked her to come down south during the civil rights movement and she said, “I can’t come yet. In the shape I am in, if I get arrested during one of your demonstrations and end up in one of those Georgia jails, I will never make it to the outside world again. But give me a little time and I’m going to sing for you-somewhere-someday” (Jackson 187). This goes to show how deeply involved she wanted to be in the Movement. As the summer went on, she was able to muster up some strength to get involved and join in with the events.
August 28 1963 was a sunny day; the scene was set at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D. C. where Jackson stood beside Martin Luther King protesting about the equality of jobs and freedom. The march was led by Phillip Randolph, and had the works for almost a year. The night before the march Jackson arrived at the hotel in anxiety wondering if the people would really come. She also described the area as a ghost town because many had left town when they heard the march was actually going to occur.
Jackson was reassured by the good turnout and that she could lend her voice to the cause and keeping the thousands of people in a positive mindset. Mahalia set the tone at the March on Washington for some estimated 250,000 people gathered at Lincoln Memorial as she sang the black spiritual “I’ve been ‘Buked and I’ve Been Scorned”. She was a quiet but strong supporter of many civil rights causes. She was accustomed to singing a heave performance schedule but singing for the march’s participants felt different to her because it was for the uplifting the civil right movement.
She was filled with so much joy that she began clapping her hands and swaying from side to side and the crowd joined in with her. As the day came to a close Jackson sung over twenty songs and every single song was moving and heartfelt. Jackson felt this was the greatest day of her life to be involved in such a gathering that will be Civil Rights history. A few weeks later while she was in California, Jackson heard that John F. Kennedy was assassinated and she felt like most Americans, all hope was gone. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN on April 4, 1968.
She had to fulfill his request of being the soloist as his funeral. As the deal went Jackson had to sing Precious Lord Take my Hand and he was eulogize at her funeral relative to who passed away first. The deaths of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, she decided it was time to retire from the political front and concentrate on her health. She had made a large contribution to the Civil Rights Movement allowing the people to embrace the words that she sang and at the end of the day that encouraged some of the people to finish with hope.
Throughout all the success, love, and accolades Jackson received from fans, she was a family woman at heart and longed to have a companion. A saxophonist, Sigmund Galloway became good friends with Jackson and often escorted her to prime events and casual dinners. In spending a lot of time together they decided to give marriage a chance. In 1965, she married Galloway in a rushed but quaint ceremony at her home. Her marriage to Galloway gave her companionship but also a child, a daughter from his previous relationship.
Jackson was content because through medical troubles of her own she could not have children. The marriage was plagued by Jackson’s great talent. Galloway felt that she was finally rubbing shoulders with the class of people that was worthy of her talent and if she switched over to secular music that her success will over be more of the life he felt befitted the “The Queen”. With the constant touring, being away from home, the stress of being married to a successful musician, and Galloway’s own career overshadowed, he felt the marriage was too demanding.
Once again Jackson had to choose between her god and music or love and companionship. This marriage to musician, Sigmund Galloway also ended in divorce. The couple reconciled but never remarried. Chicago remained Mahalia Jackson’s home until the end. Jackson, a business woman opened a beauty salon, a floral shop and invested in real estate. It is speculated that the Mahalia Jackson estate was worth at least 4 million dollars, which is unheard of the primary gospel artist and a great accomplishment in that time and for a New Orleans native born into poverty.
In the end, Jackson could no longer contain the tumors she was consumed by, the weight she battled and the heart that could not support her any longer. At Chicago’s Little Company of Mary Hospital she succumbed of heart failure on January 27, 1972. At the time of her death Jackson was sixty years old. In Chicago, a bitterly cold day, January 30 1972, the lines formed early outside Greater Salem Baptist Church and 50,000 of the people who had known and loved Mahalia Jackson filed silently past her mahogany, glass-topped coffin in final tribute to the queen of gospel song.
Mahalia Jackson was taken back to her home state Louisiana a thousand miles away and there she became the first private citizen to lie in state. Three days later after the Chicago home going, the scene repeated itself: again the long lines, again the silent tribute, again the thousands filling, this time, the great hall of the River gate Convention Center in downtown New Orleans. The crowd included school children, whites from the rich suburbs and the poor of Rampart and Dryades streets. Missing from the Rivergate thousands which emptied into New Orleans’ streets were the traditional marching bands.
Jackson, a woman of great dignity and simple tastes, had always said she wanted no big fanfare. Throughout the week of homage there was the constant reminder that Jackson’ s life had been one during which she celebrated not so much the greatness of her extraordinary career but the humbleness of her birth, her great love for the church, the strength she drew from faith. It is possible that through Mahalia Jackson’s lifeline starting in New Orleans, breakthrough in Chicago, and the pentacle of success that took her abroad one can appreciate Ms. Jackson as a true trailblazer in gospel.
Jackson was an icon not only in the gospel genre of music but for every African American musician trying to cross boundaries domestic and abroad. We should respect Jackson for her love of music and ability to convey emotion through the music that spoke to every open heart and mind.