Mahalia Jackson: Queen of Gospel

- *Simpkins, Daphne
Although she makes only a brief appearance singing in the W. C. Handy biopic St. Louis Blues, Mahalia Jackson had a much more prominent role in American history and the story of American music, particularly gospel.

The path to her success was a difficult one, too, for Ms. Jackson was part of that underreported event in American history, The Great Migration.

From a troubled upbringing, Ms. Jackson migrated as a young woman from New Orleans to Chicago where she opened a beauty parlor and sang in churches. She helped gospel composer Thomas A. Dorsey introduce his newest compositions.

Mahalia’s most famous song — and Dorsey’s — is Precious Lord, Take My Hand, which was written by Dorsey after the loss of his wife and baby.

Because of her powerful voice, Mahalia is credited with reaching a listening audience with gospel that was outside the church walls. Her voice traveled over the radio airwaves and ultimately took her to Carnegie Hall in 1952, an unusual booking for a black woman who sang gospel. In fact, historians assert that gospel music as a genre was launched by Mahalia Jackson. Later, she also sang at President John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration in 1961 and for civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., in the March on Washington in 1963. She also traveled to Alabama to support the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Because of her music’s popularity and her significant associations with influential political leaders, Mahalia Jackson was rightly named by many as “The most important woman in America” in her time. In this presentation, we will consider how Mahalia Jackson’s voice continues to hold a meaningful place in the discussion of blues, popular music, and the genre of music called gospel.

To book this talk, contact Daphne Simpkins:
Phone: 334.396.8618
Email: [email protected]

*Daphne is a dementia-friendly presenter and welcomes the opportunity to serve all age groups, including those with memory or dementia issues.