Glossary entry for
Jackson, Mahalia

Mahalia Jackson (b. Oct 26 1911, New Orleans; d. June 27 1972, Chicago) was an outstanding American gospel music singer. She grew up in the Baptist faith, but found the music of a nearby Holiness church more congenial. She was also inspired by the blues records of Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith and Ma Rainey, to which she listened secretly because blues music was associated with the devil by church-going blacks. In 1927 she moved to Chicago where she sang with the choir of the Greater Salem Baptist Church, and from 1932 with the Johnson Gospel Singers, possibly the first professional touring gospel group.

By the mid 1930's she was working alone and recording, notably "God's gonna separate the wheat from the tares". The success of her record "Move on up a little higher" (1947), which sold over one million copies, established her as the "Gospel Queen". Her blues inspired "Let the power of the Holy Ghost fall on me"(1949) won the French Academy's Grand Prix du Disque. In 1952 she toured Europe, and from 1954 she extended her scope by adding large choruses and strings. It was largely through her compelling contralto voice and her personality that people throughout the world came to respect gospel music as an idiom distinct from classical black spirituals.

Contributed by Alan Pert, Sydney, Australia

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