Jackson, Mahalia(məhăl`yə), 1911–72, American gospel singer, b. New Orleans. She sang in church choirs during her childhood. Moving (1927) to Chicago, she worked at various menial jobs and sang in churches and at revival meetings, attracting attention for her vigorous, joyful gospel style. As her reputation grew she made numerous recordings, and she gained national recognition with her Carnegie Hall debut in 1950. Jackson toured abroad and appeared on radio and at jazz festivals, refusing to sing the blues in favor of more hopeful devotional songs. At Newport, R.I., in 1958 she sang in Duke Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige. Deeply committed to the civil-rights movement, she was closely associated with the work of Dr. Martin Luther KingKing, Martin Luther, Jr.,
1929–68, American clergyman and civil-rights leader, b. Atlanta, Ga., grad. Morehouse College (B.A., 1948), Crozer Theological Seminary (B.D., 1951), Boston Univ. (Ph.D., 1955).
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See her autobiography (1966); studies by P. Oliver (1968) and J. Jackson (1974).
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Jackson, Mahalia(1911–72) gospel singer; born in New Orleans. Raised in the Baptist Church, she secretly listened to the blues recordings of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Moving to Chicago in 1927, she joined a Baptist choir; in 1928 she joined the Johnson Gospel Singers and sang and acted in "religious plays" while touring with the group for some years. By the mid-1930s she had joined Thomas A. Dorsey and would tour with his gospel group until the late-1940s. Although she had recorded four sides for Decca in the late-1930s, none gained any notice; it was her 1947 recording of "Move Up a Little Higher" that sold a million copies and soon gained her the "queen of gospel" crown. She appeared on radio and television and by 1952 commenced touring in Europe. She sang at an inaugural party for President John F. Kennedy, at the 1963 March on Washington, and at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. She appeared in several movies but refused to sing in nightclubs or to sing secular songs (although she recorded Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday" in 1958). She is credited with having inspired a whole new generation of gospel singers and making gospel become appreciated throughout the world.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.