Mahalia Jackson Biography
Mahalia Jackson was born on October 26, 1911 in New Orleans, Louisiana; at birth she was nicknamed "Halie". Her earliest memories and influences were the sights and sounds of New Orleans, steamships on the Mississippi, jazz bands playing in the streets, and the music of Bessie Smith; However, young Mahalia was to find her greatest inspiration at the local Baptist church. Mahalia was five years old when her mother died; her Aunt Duke assumed guardianship of Mahalia and her brother. Aunt Duke was a strict disciplinary; Mahalia and her cousins was often forced to work eight plus hours a day. Aunt Duke would use the "white glove" test to check their cleaning. If the house wasn't cleaned correctly, Mahalia would often get a beating. Also, if one of the other family members wasn't able to clean, Mahalia or one of her cousins was expected to
do the work. One source of joy for young Mahalia was singing; as often as she could, she sang at Mount Mariah Baptist church. Impressed with her niece's singing, Mahalia's other aunt "Aunt Bell " told her that she would sing for kings and queens some day; this was a prediction that would come true in time. When Mahalia turned sixteen, and to get away from Aunt Duke, she moved to Chicago in 1927; this was during the period known as the Great Migration; after attending her first church service, and giving a belief performance, Mahala was invited to join the Choir at Salem Baptist Church in Chicago. As a result of this affiliation, she was befriended and begun touring with the Johnson Brothers(an early professional Gospel group).
Solo Singing Career
Although the Johnson Brothers broke up in the 30's, it didn't stop young Mahalia from singing; in 1929, during her time with the Johnson Brothers, Mahalia was introduced to composer Thomas A. Dorsey; he shared his musical wisdom with Mahalia; as a result, they went on a concert tour with Mahalia singing Dorsey's songs in various church and convention centers nationwide. His composition " Take my hand precious Lord " became Mahalia's defining song. One of the first record labels she recorded for was Decca Records in the late 1930s; her records sales weren't good so Decca let her go. In 1936 Mahalia Jackson was married; she married a graduate of Fisk University named Isaac Hockenhull. Despite the money offered Mahalia, and the pressure from her husband to sing secular music, Mahalia refused. Later in 1941, when Mahalia couldn't stand it any more, she divorced Issac Hockenhull, because of his addiction to gambling, and the pressure he was putting on her to sing secular music. In 1946, Mahalia Jackson signed with Apollo Records. While she was with Apollo records, she recorded several records that initially had slow sales, but in time would become legendary hits. One song released in 1948 that helped to make her popular was "Move on up a Little Higher". Because of the demand for this record, stores were having difficulty keeping this hit song in stock. Mahalia would go on to become famous first in the United States, and later in Europe. Some other hits Mahalia had under the Apollo label included "Amazing Grace"(1947), "Go tell it on the mountain"(1950), and "How I got over"(1951).
In the early 1950s Mahalia became the first African American gospel artist to sing at Carnegie Hall. Later in 1952, she toured Europe, and sang to capacity crowds. In 1954, Mahalia signed a contract with Columbia Records; Her debut album at Columbia was called "The Worlds greatest Gospel Singer". It was during this time she was criticized by some gospel critics saying she had watered down her sound to have a better mainstream appeal. Also, during this time she appeared in a couple of movies such as St. Louis Blues, and the 1959 film Imitation of life. In 1957 Mahalia was the main Gospel music attraction at the Newport Jazz Festival, and she sang for President John F. Kennedy at his inauguration in 1961. Later, in 1963 she sang for over 250,000 people at the March on Washington; this was when Dr. Martin Luther King made his world famous "I Have a Dream" speech. In 1964, she was married again to Sigmund Galloway, but the marriage only lasted a short time. During 1963,1967, 1968 and for the last time in 1969 she toured Europe. When Dr .King was assassinated, Mahalia sang at his funeral.
Mahala Jackson was a lot more than a singer; she started the Mahalia Jackson Scholarship Foundation, to help youth attend college, and she was active in the Civil Rights movement until her health failed her. Also, for acting as a good will ambassador to the world, she received the Silver Dove Award. In the business world, Mahalia opened a beauty parlor, florist shop, and made some investments in real estate. In addition, Mahalia mentored Aretha Franklin and is credited with discovering Della Reese; she was also good friends with gospel legends Dorothy Norwood and Albertina Walker and of course Dr Martin Luther King.
Having ignored the advice of her physician to slow down, Mahalia decided to performed in Munich, Germany anyway; during her 1971 concert tour she collapsed. Upon returning from her tour of Germany, she made one of her last television appearances on The Flip Wilson Show. Mahalia Jackson departed this life on January 27, 1972. Two cities paid tribute to her Chicago and New Orleans. In Chicago at Salem Baptist Church, 50,000 people were in attendance; The Eulogy was given by the president of the National Baptist Convention, and Aretha Franklin closed the Chicago service with a powerful rendition of "Precious Lord take my hand". A few days later, at the New Orleans service thousands filled the Rivergate Convention Center in downtown New Orleans, to pay their respects. Following the New Orleans service, Mahalia Jackson was laid to rest in Metairie, Louisiana.