In New Delhi, she had an unexpected audience with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who declared, "I will never hear a greater voice; I will never know a greater person. In Januaryshe received surgery to remove a bowel obstruction and died in recovery.
Although news outlets had reported on her health problems and concert postponements for years, her death came as a shock to many of her fans. She received a funeral service at Greater Salem Baptist Church in Chicago where she was still a member. Fifty thousand people paid their respects, many of them lining up in the snow the night before, and her peers in gospel singing performed in her memory the next morning.
The day after, Mayor Richard Daley and other politicians and celebrities gave their eulogies at the Arie Crown Theater with 6, in attendance. Her body was returned to New Orleans where she lay in state at Rivergate Auditorium under a military and police guard, and 60, people viewed her casket.
On the way to Providence Memorial Park in Metairie, Louisianathe funeral procession passed Mount Moriah Baptist Church, where her music was played over loudspeakers. Like Bessie, she would slide up or slur down to a note. She would also break up a word into as many syllables as she cared to, or repeat and prolong an ending to make it more effective: "His love is deeper and deeper, yes deeper and deeper, it's deeper!
Though the gospel blues style Jackson employed was common among soloists in black churches, to many white jazz fans it was novel. As she was the most prominent — and sometimes the only gospel singer many white listeners knew — she often received requests to define the style and explain how and why she sang as she did.
Jackson was mostly untrained, never learning to read or write musical notation, so her style was heavily marked by instinct. She answered questions to the best of her ability though often responded with lack of surety, saying, "All I ever learned was just to sing the way I feel Jackson's voice is noted for being energetic and powerful, ranging from contralto to sopranowhich she switched between rapidly.
She resisted labeling her voice range instead calling it "real strong and clear". She moaned, hummed, and improvised extensively with rhythm and melody, often embellishing notes with a prodigious use of melismaor singing several tones per syllable. Author Anthony Heilbut called it a "weird ethereal sound, part moan, part failed operatics". He continues: "bending a note here, chopping off a note there, singing through rest spots and ornamenting the melodic line at will, [Jackson] confused pianists but fascinated those who played by ear".
As a member of a Sanctified Church in Mount Vernon once told me: 'Mahalia, she add more flowers and feathers than anybody, and they all is exactly right. By her own admission and in the opinion of multiple critics and scholars, Bessie Smith's singing style was clearly dominant in Jackson's voice.
In Melody MakerMax Jones contrasted the two: "Whereas Bessie's singing can sound harsh and unlovely, even to jazz students, on first acquaintance, Mahalia's voice is obviously an instrument of uncommon beauty Her bursts of power and sudden rhythmic drives build up to a pitch that leave you unprepared to listen afterwards to any but the greatest of musicians.
In her early days in Chicago, Jackson saved her money to buy records by classical singers Roland HayesGrace Mooreand Lawrence Tibbettattributing her diction, breathing, and she said, "what little I know of technique" to these singers. Improvisation was a significant part of Jackson's live performances both in concert halls and churches. She often stretched what would be a five-minute recording to twenty-five minutes to achieve maximum emotional effect.
In black churches, this was a regular practice among gospel soloists who sought to evoke an emotional purging in the audience during services. White and non-Christian audiences also felt this resonance. After one concert, critic Nat Hentoff wrote, "The conviction and strength of her rendition had a strange effect on the secularists present, who were won over to Mahalia if not to her message. Most of them were amazed at the length of time after the concert during which the sound of her voice remained active in the mind.
As her career advanced, she found it difficult to adjust to the time constraints in recording and television appearances, saying, "When I sing I don't go by the score. I lose something when I do. I don't want to be told I can sing just so long.
I make it 'til that passion is passed. When I become conscious, I can't do it good. Jackson estimated that she sold 22 million records in her career. Apollo added acoustic guitar, backup Unknown Artist - A Tribute to Glenn Miller / A Salute To The Big Bands (Vinyl), bass, and drums in the s.
Her singing is lively, energetic, and emotional, using "a voice in the prime of its power and command", according to author Bob Darden. According to musicologist Wilfrid MellersJackson's early recordings demonstrate a "sound that is all-embracing, as secure as the womb, from which singer and listener may be reborn. The breathtaking beauty of the voice and superbly controlled transitions from speech to Unknown Artist - A Tribute to Glenn Miller / A Salute To The Big Bands (Vinyl) to song heal and anneal.
Columbia Records, then the largest recording company in the U. She was marketed to appeal to a wide audience of listeners who, despite all her accomplishments up tohad never heard of her. In contrast to the series of singles from Apollo, Columbia released themed albums that included liner notes and photos. Though her early records at Columbia had a similar sound to her Apollo records, the music accompanying Jackson at Columbia later included orchestras, electric guitars, backup singers, and drums, the overall effect of which was more closely associated with light pop music.
She was marketed similarly to jazz musicians, but her music at Columbia ultimately defied categorization. Her albums interspersed familiar compositions by Thomas Dorsey and other gospel songwriters with songs considered generally inspirational. The Cambridge Companion to Blues and Gospel Music describes Jackson's Columbia recordings as "toned down and polished" compared to the rawer, more minimalist sound at Apollo.
John Hammond, who helped secure Jackson's contract with Columbia, told her if she signed with them many of her black fans would not relate well to the music. This turned out to be true and as a result, Jackson created a distinct performing style for Columbia recordings that was markedly different from her live performances, which remained animated and lively, both in churches and concert halls.
She roared like a Pentecostal preacher, she moaned and growled like the old Southern mothers, she hollered the gospel blues like a sanctified Bessie Smith and she cried into the Watts' hymns like she was back in a slave cabin. They say that, in her time, Mahalia Jackson could wreck a church in minutes flat and keep it that way for hours on end.
In live performances, Jackson was renowned for her physicality and the extraordinary emotional connections she held with her audiences. The New York Times stated she was a "massive, stately, even majestic woman, [who] possessed an awesome presence that was apparent in whatever milieu she chose to perform.
All of these were typical of the services in black churches though Jackson's energy was remarkable. At her best, Mahalia builds these songs to a frenzy of intensity almost demanding a release in holler and shout. When singing them she may descend to her knees, her combs scattering like so many cast-out demons. My hands, my feet, I throw my whole body to say all that is within me.
The mind and the voice by themselves are not sufficient. In line with improvising music, Jackson did not like to prepare what she would sing before concerts, and would often change song preferences based on what she was feeling at the moment, saying, "There's something the public reaches into me for, and there seems to be something in each audience that I can feel.
I can feel whether there's a low spirit. Some places I go, up-tempo songs don't go, and other places, sad songs aren't right. She had that type of rocking and that holy dance she'd get into—look like the people just submitted to it. According to jazz writer Raymond Horricks, instead of preaching to listeners Jackson spoke about her personal faith and spiritual experiences "immediately and directly Nothing like it have I ever seen in my life.
Those people sat She didn't say it, but the implication was obvious. Mahalia Jackson doesn't sing to fracture any cats, or to capture any Billboard polls, or because she wants her recording contract renewed. She sings the way she does for the most basic of singing reasons, for the most honest of them all, without any frills, flourishes, or phoniness. Simon . A significant part of Jackson's appeal was her demonstrated earnestness in her religious conviction.
Bostic spoke of her abiding faith: "Mahalia never became so sophisticated that she lost her humility, her relationship with God as a divine being. She never got beyond that point; and many times, many times, you were amazed — at least I was, because she was such a tough business woman. Jackson replied honestly, "I believe Joshua did pray to God, and the sun stood still.
I believe everything. Wherever you met her it was like receiving a letter from home. She was a warm, carefree personality who gave you the feeling that you could relax and let your hair down whenever you were around her — backstage with her or in her home where she'd cook up some good gumbo for you whenever she had the time. A lot of people tried to make Mahalia act 'proper', and they'd tell her about her diction and such things but she paid them no mind.
She never denied her background and she never lost her 'down home' sincerity. When Mahalia sang, she took command. The band, the stage crew, the other performers, the ushers — they were all rooting for her.
When she came out, she could be your mother or your sister. I mean, she wasn't obsequious, you know; she was a star among other stars. Other people may not have wanted to be deferential, but they couldn't help it. This woman was just great. UntilJackson used an assortment of pianists for recording and touring, choosing anyone who was convenient and free to go with her.
As her career progressed, she found it necessary to have a pianist available at a moment's notice, someone talented enough to improvise with her yet steeped in religious music. Jackson found this in Mildred Falls —who accompanied her for 25 years. Falls is often acknowledged as a significant part of Jackson's sound and therefore her success. She was born Mildred Carter in Magnolia, Mississippilearning to play on her family's upright piano, working with church choirs, and moving to California with a gospel singing group.
A broken marriage resulted in her return to Chicago in when she was referred to Jackson who set up a brief training with Robert Andersona longtime member of Jackson's entourage. Always on the lookout for new material, Jackson received 25 to 30 compositions a month for her consideration. Falls played these so Jackson could "catch the message of the song".
Falls found it necessary to watch Jackson's mannerisms and mouth instead of looking at the piano keys to keep up with her. At the Unknown Artist - A Tribute to Glenn Miller / A Salute To The Big Bands (Vinyl) of a song, Falls might start in one key and receive hand signals from Jackson to change until Jackson felt the right key for the song in that moment.
Falls remembered, "Mahalia waited until she heard exactly what was in her ear, and once she heard it, she went on about her business and she'd tear the house down. It is all joy and exultation and swing, but it is nonetheless religious music. Her left hand provided a "walking bass line that gave the music its 'bounce'", common in stride and ragtime playing.
When Shore's studio musicians attempted to pinpoint the cause of Jackson's rousing sound, Shore admonished them with humor, saying, "Mildred's got a left hand, that's what your problem is.
Jackson's influence was greatest in black gospel music. For 15 years the genre developed in relative isolation with choirs and soloists performing in a circuit of churches, revivals, and National Baptist Convention NBC meetings where music was shared and sold among musicians, songwriters, and ministers.
The NBC boasted a membership of four million, a network that provided the source material that Jackson learned in her early years and from which she drew during her recording career.
Though Jackson was not the first gospel blues soloist to record, historian Robert Marovich identifies her success with "Move On Up a Little Higher" as the event that launched gospel music from a niche movement in Chicago churches to a genre that became commercially viable nationwide. Marovich explains that she "was the living embodiment of gospel music's ecumenism and was welcomed everywhere".
The Cambridge Companion to Blues and Gospel Music identifies Jackson and Sam Cookewhose music career started when he joined the Soul Stirrers Unknown Artist - A Tribute to Glenn Miller / A Salute To The Big Bands (Vinyl), as the most important figures in black gospel music in the s. She has, almost singlehandedly, brought about a wide, and often non-religious interest in the gospel singing of the Negro. Gospel songs are the songs of hope. When you sing gospel you have a feeling there's a cure for what's wrong.
When you're through with the blues you've got nothing to rest on. As gospel music became accessible to mainstream audiences, its stylistic elements became pervasive in popular music as a whole. Jackson, who enjoyed music of all kinds, noticed, attributing the emotional punch of rock and roll to Pentecostal singing. Heilbut writes, "With the exception of Chuck Berry and Fats Dominothere is scarcely a pioneer rock and roll singer who didn't owe his stuff to the great gospel lead singers.
Mavis Staples justified her inclusion at the ceremony, saying, "When she sang, you would just feel light as a feather. God, I couldn't get enough of her. Jackson's success had a profound effect on black American identity, particularly for those who did not assimilate comfortably into white society. Though she and gospel blues were denigrated by members of the black upper class into the s, for middle and lower class black Americans her life was a rags to riches story in which she remained relentlessly positive and unapologetically at ease with herself and her mannerisms in the company of white people.
In Imitation of Lifeher portrayal as a funeral singer embodied sorrow for the character Annie, a maid who dies from heartbreak.
Scholar Johari Jabir writes that in this role, "Jackson conjures up the unspeakable fatigue and collective weariness of centuries of black women. Jackson considered Anderson an inspiration, and earned an invitation to sing at Constitution Hall in21 years after the Daughters of the American Revolution forbade Anderson from performing there in front of an integrated audience.
In interviews, Jackson repeatedly credits aspects of black culture that played a significant part in the development of her style: remnants of slavery music she heard at churches, work songs from vendors on the streets of New Orleans, and blues and jazz bands. Evelyn Cunningham of the Pittsburgh Courier attended a Jackson concert inwriting that she expected to be embarrassed by Jackson, but "when she sang, she made me choke up and feel wondrously proud of my people and my heritage. She made me drop my bonds and become really emancipated.
Malcolm X noted that Jackson was "the first Negro that Negroes made famous". Due to her decision to sing gospel exclusively she initially rejected the idea, but relented when Ellington asked her to improvise the 23rd Psalm. She organized a concert called A Salute to Black Women, the proceeds of which were given to her foundation providing college scholarships to black youth.
Media related to Mahalia Jackson at Wikimedia Commons. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. American gospel singer. Jackson c. Decca Apollo Columbia. Musical artist. Main article: Mahalia Jackson discography. Goreau, pp. Paul's brother Porter left the plantation at his first opportunity to be a cook aboard a steamboat traveling between the Atchafalaya River and New Orleans.
What little Mahalia knew of her father's family included his two cousins who were traveling vaudeville performers touring with blues singer Gertrude "Ma" Rainey.
Jackson and Wylie, pp. Jackson added the "I" to her name in Burford, pp. Jackson's autobiography and an extensively detailed biography written by Laurraine Goreau place Jackson in Chicago in when she met and worked with Thomas A. Burfordpp. Harris, pp. In the church spirit, Jackson lent her support from her seat behind him, shouting, "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin!
Branch writes that King later said he grasped at the "first run of oratory" that came to him, not knowing if Jackson's words ever reached him. Branch, p. Dorsey preferred a more sedate delivery and he encouraged her to use slower, more sentimental songs between uptempo numbers to smooth the roughness of her voice and communicate more effectively with the audience.
Early in her career, she had a tendency to choose songs that were all uptempo and she often shouted in excitement at the beginning of and during songs, taking breaths erratically.
One early admirer remembered, "People used to say, 'That woman sing too hard, she going to have TB! Jackson took many of the lessons to heart; according to historian Robert Marovich, slower songs allowed her to "embellish the melodies and wring every ounce of emotion from the hymns".
Marovich, p. They also helped her catch her breath as she got older. Department of Health and Human Services website. Retrieved October Retrieved November Retrieved January Labels: Nina Simone. Wednesday, 11 August Bernadette Peters. Bernadette Peters - Sondheim, Etc. Labels: Bernadette Peters. Stephen Sondheim.
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