Mahalia Jackson: The Afro-American Queen of Gospel Music

Mahalia Jackson grew up singing Gospel music. So it’s no surprise that the rest of her life revolved around it too.

Mahalia Jackson was born on October 26, 1911 to John A. Jackson and Charity Clark in New Orleans. Her father was a minister and a barber. When Mahalia was just four years old, she started singing at her father’s Plymouth Rock Baptist Church.

When her mother passed away soon after, Mahalia was sent to live with her religious aunt named Mahalia Paul. Mahalia’s aunt only allowed Gospel music to be sung or played in her house. That rule was fine with her niece because she could be heard singing religious tunes all around the house.

When Mahalia turned 16 years old, she moved to Chicago. There, she became a housekeeper in order to earn a living. And she kept on singing! She joined the Greater Salem Baptist Church. And she hooked up with a Gospel singing group who toured from town to town. Between the church and the group, Mahalia soon found enough singing gigs to keep her schedule full.

Her first big break came after she sang with the Prince Johnson Singers. It was then that Mahalia started recording for Decca Records. The year was 1937. She then recorded songs with Apollo Records. Finally, in 1954, Mahalia’s resounding voice got her a contract with Columbia Records.
(She stayed with them until 1967.) Mahalia also became the host of her own radio show on CBS in the same year.

Some of her more popular songs include: Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, How I Got Over
In the Upper Room, His Eye Is On the Sparrow, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, and
The Lord’s Prayer.

The woman from New Orleans who only had an eighth grade education, finally found her place in the spotlight as America’s greatest Gospel singer. She now filled an even busier schedule singing on the radio, on television shows, like the Ed Sullivan Show, and in concert halls across America. Mahalia even had the distinct honor of singing at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball in the year 1960.

Not forgetting her Afro-American roots, Mahalia found time to sing every chance she could at Dr. Martin Luther King’s rallies. She was a staunch supporter of Civil Rights.

Finally, Mahalia’s heart gave out, and she passed away on January 27, 1972 in Chicago. She was buried at Providence Memorial Park in Metairie, Louisiana. But her Gospel legacy will live on in the hearts of many. She was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on May 6, 1997.

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