(1911 – 1972)
Mahalia Jackson is considered by many to be the greatest gospel singer of all time. She was the first Black Gospel artist inducted into the GMA Hall of Fame and was the first gospel artist ever to win a Grammy Award.
Mahalia Jackson circa 1961
Mahalia Jackson was gospel music’s first superstar, a powerful vocal talent who with her recordings and performances dominated the gospel genre in the 1950s and 1960’s, long before the word “superstar” became vogue. She was a major crossover success whose popularity extended across racial divides. Even decades after her death, she remains for many a defining symbol of gospel music’s transcendent power. With her singularly expressive contralto voice, Mahalia Jackson inspired the generation of vocalist who followed in her wake.
Mahalia was among the first spiritual performers to introduce elements of jazz into her music, infusing gospel with an element of sensuality and freedom the genre had never before experienced; her artistry rewrote the rules forever.
Jackson’s upbringing and pre fame years were humble. Born in New Orleans she was brought up in a strict religious atmosphere involving disapproval of all kinds of secular music. As one of six children of a longshoreman and barber who preached on Sundays at a local church, she was forced to confine her musical activities to singing in his choir. However, Mahalia clandestinely listened to recordings of non-religious artists Bessie Smith and Ida Cox.