Born poor in New Orleans in 1911, young Mahalia Jackson was told to
"let it out" when she sang the gospel at church each Sunday. Swaying and clapping her hands, she astonished everyone who heard her powerful voice. As her fame grew, her soulful voice helped introduce gospel music to the world and brought hope to thousands of civil rights workers who marched for equality in the 1960s. Through it all, Mahalia’s faith in God never wavered and her talent remained a shining light. Roxane Orgill’s compelling narrative, accompanied by more than fifty photographs, brings drama, depth, and immediacy to the life of the world’s most famous gospel singer.
|Edition description:||1 ED|
|Product dimensions:||9.13(w) x 9.75(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
She was singing at a funeral when a man handed her his business card and said, "I want to put you on records. You had all those people crying." The card read: "J. Mayo Williams, Artists and Repertoire, Decca Records, Race Record Division."
Mahalia fingered and read and reread the business card all night and the next morning. Finally she gathered her courage and telephoned. How much does it cost to make a record, she wanted to know.
J. Mayo Williams, called "Ink," laughed. "Nothing. Just come on down."
Twenty-five-year-old Mahalia gathered her piano player, Estelle Allen, and four gospel songs. Curious, eager John Sellers tagged along. They went to the biggest building she had ever seen, the American Furniture Mart, ten times the size of anything on Canal Street in New Orleans. Mahalia was quiet as she presented gifts to Ink Williams: a bottle of whiskey and a box of cigars.
He was the musical director. He told her where to stand so the microphone could pick up the sound of both her voice and Estelle’s piano and organ. In another room, the engineer turned the knobs and pulled the switches. Mahalia had Estelle play piano on the two fast tunes, "God’s Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares" and "You Sing On, My Singer." Mahalia wasn’t a bit nervous as she hollered, holding nothing back, " ‘If you never hear me sing no more, aw, meet me on the other shore.’ " For the slow numbers, "God Shall Wipe Away All Tears" and
"Keep Me Every Day," she put Estelle on organ. Afterward Mahalia, Estelle, and John went out to celebrate with barbecue at a favorite restaurant close to home, but Mahalia had enough money for only two plates of ribs and one bottle of soda pop, and she put some food aside to take home to Ike. When the waitress said to her, "Oh, Mahalia, you’re going to be a great singer!" she replied, "No, I don’t think so." She wasn’t pleased with her first recording. She thought she could do better.
When the record was released in 1938, buyers were few. Gospel music was still fairly new, and confined mostly to the churches. Only one singer, Rosetta Tharpe, had had a hit gospel record, "Rock Me," on which she sang and picked guitar like a bluesman. Rosetta wasn’t exactly God-fearing; she’d even sung with the big jazz bands in the dance halls. Mahalia stuck to church and was consequently little known outside of Chicago—unless you counted back home in Pinching Town.
In New Orleans the taverns put a religious record into their jukeboxes for the first time, because this record wasn’t by just anybody but by one of their own. The news traveled like fire: "Mahalie’s on the box!"
The whole family crowded into the Bumblebee Bar to listen. Aunt Bell had never been in a tavern before, but she dared to enter, along with Aunt Bessie, Cousin Celie, Cousin Allen, and all the other cousins—everyone except Aunt Duke, who was working. Even Johnny Jackson, Mahalia’s father, was there. The sound of "God Shall Wipe Away All Tears" boomed from the jukebox, slow and majestic. Everyone listened closely as Mahalia made each word a meditation: " ‘When we reach the blessed homeland . . . God shall wipe all tears away.’ "
"That’s my daughter!" cried Johnny Jackson.
Outside, the song blared from other taverns on other corners. Men were crying, wiping their eyes with handkerchiefs. People ran in the streets, shouting, "My God, what a voice!"
In the days that followed, people knocked on church doors in New Orleans, asking to be baptized. Mahalia’s voice had that much power.
Mahalia. Copyright (c) 2002 Roxane Orgill. Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.