Spreading the Good News: Mahalia Jackson

“Gospel music is nothing but singing of good tidings — spreading the good news. It will last as long as any music because it is sung straight from the human heart”

                                   ~Mahalia Jackson


Born October 26, 1911 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Jackson became one of gospel music’s most cherished artist. Known for her rich and powerful voice, she was able to create a global following. She begam singing at four years old in the Mount Moriah Baptist Church and her earliest influences were the sound of Uptown New Orleans. Though her talents graced the gospel industry, Jackson’s inspirations came from the secular sound of blues artists like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Through her musicianship, Mahalia Jackson changed the face of American music and empowered the Civil Rights Movement.

American Music

Mahalia Jackson originally partnered with Decca Records in 1937 but split when her pledge to sing gospel music became an issue. She then recorded “Move On Up A Little Higher” with Apollo Records, selling one million copies in the United States. Though Jackson continuously battled segregation her voice drew hundreds of dollars for a single concert. By 1950, she was the headlining act at the First Negro Gospel Music Festival held at Carnegie Hall. 

Civil Rights Empowerment

Mahalia Jackson’s struggle with racism prompted her involvement with the Civil Rights Movement. Civil Rights leaders called on Jackson to lend her voice and support to the movement through the demonstrations and marches. 

Boycott leader Reverend Ralph Abernathy invited Jackson to sing at the first anniversary of Rosa Parks’ historical act. Upon her arrival, she met another young preacher named Martin Luther King. By 1963 Jackson performed at King’s request “I’ve Been ‘Buked” and The March on Washington because of the strength and solidarity her songs contained.

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