Soul And / Or Related Artists
mahalia jackson

Mahalia Jackson

b. Mahalia Jackson, 16th October 1911, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A.

d. 27th January 1972, Evergreen Park, Illinois, U.S.A.

Mahalia Jackson is considered by many to be the greatest gospel singer within the genre.

She was born in one of the poorest sections of New Orleans on 16th October 1911.

Mahalia made her debut in the children's choir of the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church at the age of four, and within a few years was a prominent member of the Mt. Moriah Baptist's junior choir.

Raised next door to a sanctified church, she was heavily influenced by their brand of gospel, with its reliance on drums and percussion over piano.

She was also inspired was the blues of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.

When reaching her teen years, Mahalia's unique vocal style was maturing.

On leaving school during the eighth grade, Jackson moved to Chicago in 1927, where she worked as a maid and laundress.

Within months of her arrival, she was the lead vocalist with the choir at the Greater Salem Baptist Church, where she joined the three sons of her pastor in their group the Johnson Brothers.

Although other small choir groups had recorded records in the past, the Johnson Brothers could be construed the first professional gospel unit ever.

The group were the first organized group to play the Chicago church circuit and even produced a series of self-written musical dramas in which Mahalia took the lead role.

After the members of the Johnson Brothers went their separate ways during the mid-'30s, Mahalia began her solo career accompanied by pianist Evelyn Gay, who herself later went on to major fame as one half of gospel's Gay Sisters.

During weekdays, Mahalia also went to beauty school, and soon opened her own salon.

As her reputation as a singer grew throughout the Midwest, in 1937 she made her first recordings for Decca, becoming the first gospel artist signed to the label.

Peculiarly, none of the tracks she recorded during her 21st May session was by Thomas A. Dorsey, the legendary composer for whom she began working as a song demonstrator around that same time.

While her Decca single 'God's Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares' sold poorly, prompting a lengthy studio hiatus, Jackson's career continued on the upswing she soon began peforming live in cities from Buffalo to New Orleans and Birmingham.

She was fast becoming famous in churches throughout the country for not only her inimitable voice but also her stage presence and spiritual intensity.

Mahalia did not record again until 1946, signing with Apollo Records.

The work she produced during her eight-year stay on their roster was of a very high standard.

While her first Apollo recordings, including 'I Want to Rest' and 'He Knows My Heart,' fared poorly (so much so, in fact, that the label almost dropped her producer) Art Freeman insisted Jackson record W. Herbert Brewster's 'Move on Up a Little Higher' released in early 1948.

The single became the best-selling gospel record of all time, selling in such great quantities that stores could not even meet the demand.

Mahalia became a superstar, beginning in 1950, she became a regular guest on journalist Studs Terkel's Chicago television series, and among white intellectuals and jazz critics, she acquired a major cult following.

These successes were based in large part on her similarities to Bessie Smith.

In 1952, her recording of 'I Can Put My Trust in Jesus' won a prize from the French Academy, resulting in a successful tour of Europe.

Mahalia's rendition of 'Silent Night' became one of the all-time best-selling records in Norway's history.

Her success led to her, in 1954, beginning hosting her own weekly radio series on CBS, the first program of its kind to broadcast the gospel style over national airwaves.

Mahalia had a supporting cast which included not only pianist Mildred Falls and organist Ralph Jones, but also a white quartet led by musical director Jack Halloran.

Also that year, she signed to Columbia, scoring a Top 40 hit with the single 'Rusty Old Halo,' and two years later made her debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The result of her successes meant that, during the late 1950's, the black churches could not afford to pay her performance fee.

Mahalia appeared at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and an album with Percy Faith became a smash.

Her record label, Columbia insisted on more recordings with orchestras and choirs and she even recorded a rendition of 'Guardian Angels' backed by the comedian Harpo Marx.

In 1959, she appeared in the film 'Imitation of Life', and two years later sang at John F. Kennedy's Presidential inauguration.

Martin Luther Kings Funeral Martin Luther Kings Funeral 1968

During the 1960's, Mahalia became a close supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, and at his funeral sang his last request, 'Precious Lord'.

Throughout that decade she was a force in the civil rights movement, however, after 1968, with King and the brothers Kennedy all assassinated, she retired from the political front.

At much the same time Jackson went through a messy and very public divorce, prompting a series of heart attacks and the rapid loss of over a hundred pounds.

During her last years, however, she recaptured much of her former glory, concluding her career with a farewell concert in Germany in 1971.

She died on the 27th January, 1972.

Real Player


Bless This House (Columbia 1956)

Live at Newport 1958 (Columbia 1958)

Just as I Am [Kenwood] (Kenwood 1960)

Just as I Am [Simitar] (Simitar 1960)

The Power & The Glory (Columbia 1960)

Sweet Little Jesus Boy (Columbia 1961)

Recorded in Europe During Her Latest Concert... [live] (Columbia / Legac 1962)

Silent Night (Songs for Christmas) (Columbia 1962)

Mahalia (Kenwood 1965)

In the Upper Room (601 1965)

In Concert Easter Sunday, 1967 [live] (Columbia 1967)

Sings the Best-Loved Hymns of Dr. M.L. King (Columbia 1968)

A Mighty Fortress (Columbia / Legac 1968)

How I Got Over (Columbia 1976)

Christmas with Mahalia Jackson [CBS] (Sony 1990)

Wishing You a Merry Christmas (Hits Of 1991)

Christmas with Mahalia Jackson [Special] (Special Music 1992)

Christmas with Mahalia Jackson [Black Label] (Black Label 1992)

Silent Night, Holy Night [Sony] (Sony Music 1992)

Gospel Christmas/Silent Night (Laserlight 1992)

Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen (Vogue 1993)

Silent Night, Holy Night [Excelsior] (Sound 1993)

Live at Newport (Columbia / Legac 1994)

Mahalia Sings Songs of Christmas! (Legacy / Columbia 1995)

Gospels, Spirituals, & Hymns, Vol. 2 (Sony 1998)

Spiritual Christmas [Fine Tune] (Fine Tune 2000)

It's in My Heart (Planet Media 2001)

Oh My Lord (Past Perfect 2002)

The Gospel Queen [Past Perfect] (Past Perfect 2002)

top of the page

SoulwalkingStart HereThe ArtistsListen Out ForThe ChartBeen MissedRespectReal AudioOpinionNetworkJazz & FusionLinksMotown