“All Hail, the Queen of Gospel”! Does Aretha Franklin spark a thought? Shirley Caesar? Mahalia Jackson is the woman who has earned that title among others in American Gospel. This biography of Jackson aims to clarify the height of success that Jackson acquired and why she is called the “World’s Greatest Gospel Singer,” we begin with the early influences of New Orleans and her breakthrough moments in Chicago, Mahalia Jackson was born October 11, 1912, on Waters Street of New Orleans, Louisiana. Jackson was the third of six children and lived in what she called a three room “shotgun shack” near the Mississippi River levee. Both sets of Jackson’s grandparents were born into slavery and freed after the Civil War. Jackson learned the struggles of the family’s history through her Uncle Porter, her mother’s brother. Jackson’s mother died suddenly when she was five years old of an unknown illness, and her father, a barber who was not often present during her life brought her to live with a relative, Mahalia Paul or “Aunt Duke.” Young Jackson went was far as the eighth grade until she was hired a laundress to bring income to the household in addition to helping with her aunt as a domestic worker in various positions. Her father often contributed money for Jackson and her brother, William. Jackson stayed with Aunt Duke for the years she remained in New Orleans. In New Orleans, there was a multicultural influence on Jackson’s music education and New Orleans was full of music while she was growing up. The brass bands were prominent. There was still music on the showboats on the Mississippi, there were all the cabarets, and cafes, where musicians such as Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver played Ragtime music, jazz, and the blues were played all over town. Jackson enjoyed All Saints Day, where thousands of residents came to picnic and sing songs. This day tied together her loved of gospel with the fellowship of the festivities. Jackson loved to sing amongst the congregation. At Mount Moriah Baptist Church, where she had the foot tapping and hand clapping praises that she enjoyed so much. Jackson enjoyed congregation singing more than singing in the choir. Jackson compared choir singing to anthems and congregation singing to testifying to the Lord. Mahalia Jackson credits the Sanctified and Holiness churches of the South as the great influences in her life. Even though Jackson was a Baptist, she experienced Holiness worship of the church because she lived next door to one. Jackson described the praise in these words, “Those people had no choir and no organ. Everybody in there sang and the clapped and stomped their feet and sang with their whole bodies.” Jackson went on to say, “They had a powerful beat, a rhythm we held onto from slavery days and their music was so strong and expressive it used to bring tears to my eyes.” Mahalia Jackson remained in New Orleans until she was sixteen. In 1927, she moved to Chicago. Jackson’s father brought back discouraging news of his travels to Chicago, sharing stories of Al Capone and mob scene and decreeing that the hustle and bustle of city life was too much. That information only deterred Jackson for a short while. With money that she had saved from her work as a nursemaid and laundress she traveled to Chicago in 1928. She admitted that she was frightened but she thought the church would be able to protect her from the gangsters but she was determined to go. Jackson traveled North Chicago accompanied by her Aunt Hannah. Once in Chicago, she resided with Aunt Hannah on the Southside, which was the second largest African American population in the U.S., second only to Harlem, NY. Jackson continued domestic labor in the new city and did not return to New Orleans for fifteen years. Jackson often said she owed her sense of self to the city of Chicago. Here in Chicago she found her second home The Greater Salem Baptist Church led by a Rev. Johnson. Mahalia Jackson stated that the Great Depression was...
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