Queen of Gospel: Mahalia Jackson

Called the Queen of Gospel, gospel artist Mahalia Jackson started singing when she was 4 for her Baptist church. Heavily influenced by secular blues musicians, Mahalia Jackson would come to be recognized for her fusion of sanctification church styles and freer more contemporary rhythm and movements. In her teen years she moved to Chicago to study nursing, and became a member of the Johnson Gospel Singers. Later on, she worked with Thomas Dorsey, performing around the world and gathering an audience. 

Mahalia Jackson, considered one of the most influential voices in gospel during the 20th century, was an American gospel singer with a career lasting over 40 years. She was a contralto singer, specializing in gospel blues, mainly singing in black churches during segregation. Jackson was Martin Luther King Jr’s favorite singer. She sang inspirational and uplifting gospel music, like her song “Just As I Am” and “How I Got Over.” Mahalia JAckson was the first black gospel singer to get inducted into the GMA Hall of fame and the first gospel artist ever to win a Grammy Award. She was also among the first few gospel artists to introduce jazz into their music. This fusion gave gospel a flexible and freeing new take, and her influence in doing this rules the genre forever. A lot of her music planted roots for R&B, soul, and Rock and Roll.

“Robert F. Darden, professor of journalism, public relations and new media at Baylor University and former gospel music editor for Billboard magazine, tells MyLifetime.com that the singer believed her vocal gifts came from God, ‘and therefore, should only be used in God’s service.’ ‘That unshakable belief provided the moral foundation that enabled her to resist calls to sing in nightclubs, or even arenas, and record overtly pop music, jazz or the blues,’ he says.” writes J’na Jefferson in a Philidelphia Sun article. She did not let that resistance lessen or dilute her work though. Her most notable performances were “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” and inspirational “Move On Up A Little Higher,” which had been inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame. 

In order to hold herself up before she career took off, she worked as a laundress, flower shop owner, and beautician. She reached real popularity in the late 40s with her hit “Move On Up a Little Higher”. In 1950 she performed to a racially integrated audience in Carnegie Hall. By the late 50s, she was a huge international figure and had sung at President Kennedy’s inauguration. An active supporter of civil rights, Mahalia Jackson was close friends with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and sang at the March on Washington and at his funeral. She gave her final concert in 1971 in Germany, and sadly passed away from a heart attack in 1972. 

By Corinne Adams and Cheyanne Harris

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