Her title as the Queen of Gospel became a testament to how she lived her life for God’s glory both on and off the stage. Along with Thomas Dorsey, who was considered the Father of Gospel, Jackson performed at various churches in the area and performed in gospel tents. By performing with such a renowned composer, Jackson’s as a gospel singer grew. After touring with Dorsey, she returned to Chicago to open her own beauty salon and floral shop. Through her small business, she was able to draw a wide range of customers from the gospel and church communities, even while she was not making music. She was known to always offer supportive and encouraging words to her customers, captivating her fans both on the stage and off. On the side, she continued to make records but they were of very little monetary gain. One day, while she was practicing in a studio, a representative from Decca records overheard her and advised her to record a spiritual she learned as a child, Move On Up a Little Higher. The record sold like wildfire, selling 100,000 copies overnight and quickly passing the two-million mark. The Negro press soon hailed her as the “only Negro who Negroes have made famous.” During that time period, it was not very often that an artist, especially an African American, was made famous on such a large scale, by solely the African American community. However, this was the case with Jackson, and her name became a staple in the history of gospel music.
Upon beginning to tour again, Jackson was willing to do whatever it took to ensure that she was able to share the gospel. She rented a Cadillac that she slept in whenever her tours brought her to places where hotels would not allow blacks to lodge. She also stored food in the back of the Cadillac so that she could have food to eat whenever she encountered restaurants that refused to serve blacks. No matter the venue, geographical location, or audience, there was one thing about Mahalia that remained the same: she stayed true to who she was and whose she was during every performance. While performing to a packed house of white and black patrons at Carnegie Hall, Jackson recounts how she got carried away with the jubilant audience (some would say she was caught up in the Spirit). She cites that she found herself on her knees singing for them, and she had to straighten up and say “Now we best remember that we are in Carnegie Hall and if we cut up too much, they may put us out.” This funny statement, in all its authenticity, only captivated her audiences even more. It is also interesting to note that phrases like these continue to dominate in the Black church setting. This demonstrates that she was not ashamed to let the Spirit use her and to be caught up in the Spirit during her performances. Her ability to perform from her true and genuine self made her equally as popular internationally as she was here in the United States. She performed for royalty and fans in France, England, Denmark, and Germany. She was also able to sing to groups of mixed religions, including Jews, Christians, and Muslims. From the current optic of present day America where it seems virtually impossible for people of different denominations, yet alone different religions, to come together and be on one accord, this is tremendous. This shows not only her capabilities to captivate her audiences, but how she constantly placed God first in her life, allowing her to be wildly successful and reach millions of people.
She was not only known on stage and in her community, but she is also viewed as an iconic member of the Civil Rights Movement. Not only was she an active participant, but Jackson’s voice was a highlight of one of the most major events of the movement. She sang at the historic March on Washington, right before Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. The Civil Rights Movement and the Black church were intertwined, leading to the theme of many Baptist and Missionary Baptist churches having a social justice theme. Jesse Jackson says that Mahalia Jackson’s voice became the voice of the Civil Rights movement. She sang at the Presidential Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and also sang at fundraising events for the African American freedom struggle. No matter how grand of a stage her voice took her, she never hesitated to show up when called upon by her friend Martin Luther King Jr. to sing for the fight for freedom. Through everything Mahalia was able to achieve and the amazing spaces her career took her, she continued to have a humble spirit. Jackson considered herself a “simple woman: she enjoyed cooking for friends as much as much as marveling at landmarks around the world.”