For the uninitiated, it’s easy to recognize the musical roots of Mahalia Jackson, but not understand the significance of her history. On January 27, 1972, Jackson passed away in Evergreen Park, Illinois. Already having the privilege of being born in the birthplace of jazz, Jackson found her musical roots early in the church choir of Mount Moriah Baptist Church. Having a style all of her own, it didn’t take long for the people around her to notice her potential. She had already started to separate herself from the other singers in the choir with her unique, soulful tones.
Although when she initially set out for a career as a nurse, she couldn’t escape her musical talents and ended up joining the Johnson Gospel Singers. It wasn’t an easy road to success, as she often held part-time jobs while pursuing her musical career. After hooking up with several composers and artists, she found her footing and the years of hard work paid off as she gained a cult following. Her hit song “Move On Up a Little Higher” sold millions in 1947, becoming the bestselling gospel single in history. Even after performing at Carnegie Hall, her true success came through touring abroad. She instantly became a worldwide sensation and even had a television presence with her gospel CBS show. Mahalia was very much in-demand worldwide, and even sang at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.
But away from music is where she really made her mark, as she was a big supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. As a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she sang at the March on Washington and even performed at his funeral after his assassination. A highly recommended book by her is the autobiography “Movin’ On Up,” which goes into deep detail on her life and many achievements.
The Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts Center, which opened shortly after her passing, is still one of the most popular places in the world to perform. Although there have been many who have reached her singing prowess, there are few who have had the impact she has had outside of the community. Mahalia is a rare gem, as a singer who can touch all cultures and crossover without selling out. This is one of the many reasons she is missed, and why there will probably never be another legend like her in our lifetimes.