By 1945, nearly everyone in the African American community had heard gospel music (2). At this time, gospel music was a sacred folk music with origins in field hollers, work songs, slave songs, Baptist lining hymns, and Negro spirituals. These songs that influenced gospel music were adapted and reworked into expressions of praise and thanks of the community. Although the harmonies were similar to those of the blues or hymns in that they shared the same simplicity, the rhythm was much different.
The rhythms often times had the music with its unique accents, the speech, walk, and laughter which brought along with it synchronized movements. (2) The gospel piano style was based on the rhythm section concept, where the middle of the piano was used to support the singers. This area supported the singers by doubling the vocal line in harmony. The bottom, left corner of the piano was used as a bass fiddle while the upper right hand portion played the counter melodies, taking the place of a trumpet or flute.
It was the right hand corner that filled in the material during the rhythmic breaks. Often times the text of the gospel songs portrayed meanings of the Trinity, blessings, thanks and lamentations. The singers used the voices to communicate their feelings about Christianity. Many singers sang through the problems and moved their audiences, often congregations, so much so that the audience forgot their own problems temporarily and the weights of the world were taken away through the music. (2) During the beginning of the Golden Age of Gospel (1945-1955), gospel music reached a near perfection and had a huge, devote audience. The call and response form in particular flourished in the new type of music.
The African American gospel song had a unique power and ability to overcome. It was a means of transcending the listeners, singers and entire congregation to a higher spiritual and emotional level. During the post-Civil War years, the congregation style of singing was transformed by the new Pentecostal congregations, also known as Holiness and Sanctified. (5)African American gospel music was a twentieth century phenomenon which evolved through the people that moved from rural communities to urban centers in cities.
They left their areas of limited promise and social and economic terror in hopes of starting over. (4) Gospel was s style of repertoire and singing. The music was delivered as a high powered spiritual force. The emphasis was placed on the vocal rhythms. Gospel music combined call and response forms, with slow-metered , lined out protestant hymns. Born in 1912, Mahalia Jackson was the third of six children.
Growing up in segregated, racist times, Mahalia lived in what she called a shotgun shack. White folks owned the bars and grocery stores of the neighborhood. Blacks were left with the left over jobs, often working for white families, or working on the railroad tracks. Mahalias father found work on the riverfront, dock towns and on the boats. On Sundays, her father worked preaching in a Baptist church. For as hard as her parents worked, money always seemed to be short.
When Mahalia was only five years old, her mother died. Her father remarried and acquired a whole new family with the marriage. Although she never earned any pay for her work, Mahalia began doing chores for her Aunt Duke after school. Both sets of Mahalias grandparents were born into slavery and she was doomed to head the same way.
When Mahalia was in eight grade, she began to look for work outside of her aunts chores and got a job as a laundress. (4)When Mahalia finally became famous, she always demanded her payments in cash, paid up-front. The reason for her requests was because often times during her childhood years, they never received the payments they worked hard to receive. They would often be cheated out of their sums because plantation owners claimed that the money they earned was equal to their fees for room and board. (1)When Mahalia was just a small child, everyone that knew her agreed that she possessed something special. At eight years old, she had an uncommonly large voice.
Using her talented voice both in and outside of church, she gained much praise. She of acquired a rich range spirituals and hymns. (5)Living in New Orleans, music was all around her and the city was filled with performing bands, pianists and various other types of musicians. It was almost as if everyone in the city of New Orleans knew how to play a musical instrument or sing a song. The new music was being produced for and by blacks.
It because a tradition to hire brass bands to lead the funeral parade. This is only one small example of the good time spirit of the city. To them, they cried at the incoming of child and rejoiced at the outgoing. Death was something that was celebrated, not feared. This type of music played after burying the dead was called Second Line music. People would line the curbs and the returning band and dancing crowd often times attracted many fans.
Despite the fact that someone had died, people were always happy. (1) The music meant something to them. It was the music of their souls and it was part of the New Orleans people and they way they did things. (3)When Mahalia moved up North she said that a lot of people questioned her about the way she sang religious songs. She would tell these people that she sang the songs the way she grew up hearing them.
Many people think that is sounds like jazz, but to her she knew no different as a small child. Mahalia saw little difference between gospel and folk music. Some people claim that since Gospel and folk songs didnt take a lot of long studying, then they were ashamed by them. (1) They were considered simple songs of peoples hearts. People figured that if a song came from the heart then it must be too easy and should not be considered art, as we know it.
These peoples opinions angered Mahalia and she strongly disagreed with them. She liked to sing gospel songs for herself. There were times when she felt like she was so far from God and the gospel songs were deep and had special meanings. They could bring back the communication and connection between oneself and God.
(2)Mahalia first heard Bessie Smiths song, Careless Love when her cousin, Young Fred, brought home the new recordings. Young Fred was Aunt Dukes son and he and Mahalia were very close growing up. Mahalia and Fred would listen to the new recordings for hours on Freds phonograph, helping to ease a long, tiresome day of school and work. Outside of Mahalias family, the thing of next most importance in her life was her church, Mount Moriah Baptist Church.
(3) She claims that it was the foot tapping and hand clapping of the congregation in her church that she credit for her bounce of her music. She enjoyed singing the songs, which testified the glory of the Lord. A Baptist all her life, it was actually her adoration of the Sanctified or Holiness church that affected her life and art. Although the Baptists had an organ and sang songs, the Sanctified Church had cymbals, drums, strings and tambourines that went along with the beat of vigorous hand clapping. Mahalia go so into the church music that she claims she was carried away by the spirit and the passion that filled her as she performed literally transported her out of herself. Mahalia always loved the church because of its powerful music.
From her experiences in the church, she grew to sing the way she does today. (1) It was the way the preacher would sing, chant, cry, moan and shout in a groaning way that penetrated into her and other members of the congregations hearts. (1)Fred, Mahalias cousin and good friend was killed in an after-hours saloon brawl. This was her signal that she needed to move on with her life and get out of her Aunts house where she was abused. (1) She was ready to move out of adolescence and experience what life had to offer for her. The music that Mahalia and Fred listened to as children, (Dixieland music from various dance halls in their town) was music for the common people.
She was out to seek her new musical destiny on a fresh, new place. Mahalia and her Aunt Hannah boarded the Illinois Central for a three-day trip to Chicago. The accommodations were separate yet equal according to the Supreme Courts decision in 1893, yet Mahalia and her aunt found themselves eating the food they had brought themselves since they were not allowed in the dining room, in packed, unheated conditions. (5)Upon arriving in Chicago, Mahalia found a job in the laundries working at a wash job. While she dreamed of becoming a nurse, she was faced with a wash job, or the option to work for a white family on the rich North Side.
Her choices were ones of dirty, hard work and long workdays but she knew she had no other choice. In her new home, on of her top priorities was finding a new church. Her aunt brought her along to the Greater Salem Baptist Church where she was warmly welcomed and became a member of their choir almost immediately. Although she was living in poor conditions, working hard for little to no money, she kept her faith, knowing that the Lord had his arms around her.
She credits the Depression for her whole career in gospel singing because it was these experiences that helped shape who she was and her way of life. (3) Mahalia became a member of the Johnson Singers, a group that sang in neighborhood churches for minimal money. Eventually this group began to work its way up and performed as headliners for the out-of-town Baptist conventions. Mahalias first and last music lesson took place at the South Side music school, by a tenor, Professor DuBois, a man of local fame.
As her lesson progressed we can see why she never wanted to return. Her teacher, Mr. DuBois, told her that she had better stop hollering and insisted that she would have a better appeal with the white people, who would better understand her singing. She was thoroughly insulted to say the least and never desired another lesson. (5)At the age of twenty-three, the year being 1935, Mahalia was still living in Chicago and finally found the love of her life. Isaac Hockenhull, a friend from the many church sponsored socials that she attended, was the lucky man.
Isaac knew he wanted to marry Mahalia and was convinced that she could get her voice trained so she could become a concert artist. In 1938, the two were married and lived happily together for a few years to come. Mahalia opened her own business as a hairdresser and soon expanded to sell cosmetics. (1) Next, she added a floral shop to her list and they were doing very well financially. Ike was still convinced that Mahalia needed to take her vocal talents one step further and convinced her to meet with Madame Anita Patty Brown, who had once been an opera singer and was a celebrated voice of the South Side.
Although the lesson went well, Mahalia had her mind set on singing gospel and she disregarded Ikes input if it suggested anything different. While taking voice lessons from Madame Brown, Mahalia was also working with Thomas Dorsey, the choirmaster for many of the Baptist churches in Chicago and the leading gospel composer. Ike presented Mahalia with another opportunity. He had heard that the Federal Theater project was in the area and they were casting a production called The Hot Mikado.
Mahalia auditioned and won a leading role but refused the job. Things between Ike and Mahalia began to worsen and they were beginning to come apart over gospel singing. Ike had a gambling problem, which didnt help their relationship, and they separated and eventually got a divorce, continuing to remain friends. (4)In 1933, Mahalia was given the opportunity to return to New Orleans and visit her family. When attending a tent show back home in Greenville, she met the acquaintance of an eight-year-old boy named John Sellers. She was very impressed with his talents and they two remained friends.
John would often stop by randomly to visit Mahalia and he turned toward Mahalia as a role model. Living with his Aunt Carrie, John got kicked out of the house over a disagreement and moved in with Mahalia was said that her home was his home. An opportunity knocked on Mahalias door when he was offered a job working for a family in a small South Side apartment. (5)This family, the MacIvers, employed John and gave him his own apartment and five dollars a week. Still staying in touch with Mahalia, John attended church with her one Sunday afternoon and joined her in singing.
John Sellers quickly became known as Brother John in the church circle and his relationship with Mahalia began to slip away. (3)In Mahalias first performing days in Chicago, many of the ministers rejected her. They claimed that Mahalia had a tendency to shake and twist about which were movements, which were inappropriate for the pulpit. She agreed to their conditions to wear suitable clothing/robes and concealed her vaulting feelings. (1)Right after V-J Day, Louis Terkel, a well-known Chicago raconteur, started a radio program he called The Wax Museum on the station WENR.
Terkel was the first to introduce black entertainers and ethnic music on the white airwaves of Chicago. He played the recording of Im Goin to Tell God All About It on his 78 record. He asked Mahalia Jackson to come on his show for an interview and she agreed. Her airtime introduced her to the world beyond her church community. Mahalias call and response, give and take, and her body, hand and foot movements were mesmerizing. Her radio appearances brought a new beat, a musical stirring to white ears that they had never heard before.
She surprised her audience with a celebratory life force and a segregated healing sound that had sustained black people in their anguish and acted as a separator from the mainstream of American life. The sounds that Mahalia could create so magnificently helped white embrace gospel for the first time, as they had already accepted jazz and blues. (1)In 1946 Mahalia met the acquaintance of Bess Berman, a woman of New York in the recording business. Bess fell in love with Mahalias gospel voice and signed her for a recording contract. She promised Mahalia $10,000 a year but her music was not being accepted as well as they had hoped.
Bess allowed Mahalia one more chance to revive the interest of the listeners. Mahalia was determined that she could add her own unique swinging style to a song by Reverend Brewster, called Move On Up a Little Higher, a song that had not moved far out of the black church circle. Her idea proved to be extremely successful and produced royalties of over $300,000 for Mahalia in the first year alone. Mahalia was unaware the a woman by the name of Rosetta Tharp was a competitor of hers in the gospel field and had a contract previous to hers with Jukebox Berman. Tharps contract included veto power on any gospel competitor that Berman might want to sign. Mahalia was outraged but was forced to stop recording any jukebox numbers.
That was not the last that Mahalia heard from Rosetta. The Golden Gate in Harlem was redesigned to an auditorium and became the mecca for gospel and jazz. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Rosetta Tharp, and Mahalia Jackson were star performers. (1)In 1951, Joe Bostic, Mahalias church agent decided to take a very big gamble. He wanted to expand his horizons for his gospel clients and rented Carnegie Hall.
This gamble turned out to be a great success and every seat sold out! That evening broke all house records, including the ones set by Toscanini and Benny Goodman. By 1955, Mahalia was no longer working with Bess Bermans Apollo Records, but had moved on to Columbia Records. Columbia Records called Mahalia the worlds greatest gospel singer. (2)Working along side of Mahalia and also deserving much recognition is Mildred Falls, Mahalias pianist and organist.
In the summer of 1951, Mahalia and Mildred were invited to attend the Music Inn, a prestigious summer school of the Greenwich community as guests of Marshall Stearns, the Inns creator. Stearns knew Mahalia’s recordings from Apollo Records very well and invited the two to spend the weekend in the jazz think tank. Mahalia strongly believed that every man and woman needed something to believe in, something they could look up to. For Mahalia, it was the gospel that she believed in and it was the gospel that uplifted her. She saw nothing wrong with selling the gospel in the market place as long as it was pure and untainted. (4) Beginning in the mid-1930s vocal ministers and board members of black churches opposed, resented and were horrified of the decent of gospel songs into wide popularity.
Mahalia did what came natural to her and gained great fame through her unique style. Although she broke every rule of concert singing from breathing in the middle of a word and garbling words together, her full throated feelings and expressions made up the difference! While at the Music Inn, Hammond sought out Mahalia and wished to talk to her about her recording future. Representing Columbia, he reminded Mahalia that her current contract with Bess Berman was under shaky conditions, considering that Bess was under financial stress. Columbia offered Mahalia more money then Bess in the future.
In 1952, the agreement between Mahalia and Bess began to shatter. At this point, Mahalia picked up the phone and called Mitch Miller, the contract negotiator for Columbia and asked that he send her a contract. Although she did not jump to sign the contract when it arrived, on Easter Sunday night, Mahalia felt that she had received a sign from god and signed the contract immediately. (5) A friend of Mahalias, Stern Terkel, took on a position working at the CBS radio show in 1954, when Mahalia learned that the show needed a staff writer. CBS did not support the idea of having Terkel work for them but they agreed to Mahalias requests as long as they both understood that his name would not appear in the program credits or advertising.
For twenty weeks, the Mahalia Jackson Show ran on television for a half-hour each episode. Beginning in September 1954, the show did not last very long. Mahalias show featured her singing traditional gospels and spirituals with a few miscellaneous songs but the show was missing a major component. (2) The show was in need of a sponsor and began to go out of business.
The show went from thirty minutes airtime to ten minutes and eventually ended in February 1955. This was not the end of Mahalia’s television appearances however. The TV station, WBBM-TV of Chicago asked Mahalia to be a guest on their program, In Town Tonight. This pleased her very much because until that point, neither she nor any other black entertainers had been sought after by networks.
She once again asked that her friend Terkel be employed as writer of the TV show when she appeared. They agreed to her requests but once again declared that Terkel would have to remain anonymous. While with Columbia, George Avakian was assigned to be Mahalias artist and repertoire man. (5)When Mahalia performed time was a key element to her. She wanted to make sure she had enough time to leave the audience with her intended message. Mahalia became annoyed with the television and radio broadcasters because she claimed that the first thing they wanted to do was to rush her and start warning her of her time limits.
Before you knew it, theyd start cutting you off, she claimed. To her, real gospel singing was more then just entertainment. She stressed her desire to get a message in peoples heads and did not want to be rushed. She was starting to make good money and felt that people show respect her and listen to her requests.
These were her five years of her ascendancy into the white music market. (1)In between concerts and broadcasts, Mahalia could be found with Mildred and her cousin John Stevens, who drove the ladies around in Mahalias purple Cadillac. Mahalia remembers the difficulties they went through as they traveled and they harsh prejudices they faced. She can recall a time when they couldnt find a single place to eat or sleep along the major highways. People refused to serve them because of their skin color. Some gasoline stations even refused to sell them gas, making their journeys very difficult.
In the pre-civil war days, black-touring companies were in fierce competition. It was a tradition for them to request their payments in cash at the conclusion of the program. They musicians and performers were forced to guard their earnings with their dear life. They often their money in their shoes or undergarments. Living conditions during Mahalias time were difficult and due to the circumstances listed above, she often found herself sleeping in her car alongside the road.
Police rarely ever showed respect towards anyone of color. Racism flew like mad. (1)In 1955, Rosa Parks, a seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, boarded the bus as usual but proceeded to take the first available seat in the front section, which by law was reserved for whites. When asked to, Rosa refused to give up her seat and she was arrested and briefly jailed. In 1956 Mahalia was visited by Reverend Ralph Abernathy, a colleague of Martin Luther Kings.
Reverend Abernathy explained that the St. John A. M. E.
Church in Montgomery was planning on honoring Ms. Parks and they wanted Mahalia to participate by playing a bracing musical interlude. She agreed and was a huge success. In 1957, Mahalia had saved enough money to purchase of home of her very own. She bought a single level house with a small garage in Indiana Avenue, which was mostly a white neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago.
Unfortunately with her choice of locations, Mahalia faced severe discrimination once again. An unidentified person fired air-rifle pellets into her front window. This was only once incident in the rising tide of racism. (1)Once again, another opportunity opened up for Mahalia to go on television. Dinah Shore, a top TV personality of the day, insisted that her network, CBS enter into a contract with Mahalia, having her appear on the Dinah Shore Show. Mahalia agreed and was quite pleased with her wide reception.
This TV appearance brought along with it numerous opportunities for Mahalia. Columbia offered new recording dates, numerous TV guests shots, and various nightclubs offers. (2)In 1958, Douglas Sirk directed the film Imitation of Life, and asked Mahalia to be a part of this movie. Mahalia agreed and played the part of Louise Beaver, a happy colored servant.
After this films release, Mahalia made a guest appearance on TV with Bing Crosby and Dean Martin. She was in the business big time and was making big money. The fame and success she had always dreamed of was becoming a reality. (4)The call and response gospel style was Mahalias signature and Mildred never lost her way with that style. Without Mildreds blues chords, triplets and four-four bouncing, Mahalias art would have been much weaker. Mildred have Mahalia the latitude she needed along with the freedom to adlib new lyrics, break time and alter the melodies in the heat of building the meaning of the song.
Unfortunately, the conditions under which Mildred worked for Mahalia were poor. (1) Mahalia tended to be cautious with her money and severely underpaid Mildred considering all she did for her. When Mildred got up the nerve to ask for a raise so she could afford to live in a motel and eat out, Mahalia fired her. When Mahalia had money, no one could talk to her and she would close out anything and everything that she didnt want to get involved with. (1)Good news came for Mahalia when George Avakian and his wife asked her to participate in a New York concert that would be performed in the Town Hall.
Gospel songs and spirituals were considered serious and sacred music for the black church congregation. The blues were often considered sinful since they were secular with origins from the streets, alleys and barrelhouses. Brother John Sellers grew up in the Mississippi River towns and was exposed to gospel, blues, and eventually jazz. He loved these aspects of music and decided to cut his dependency with Mahalia Jackson. (2)In 1953, John Hammond was making a name for himself and was drafted by Maynard and Seymour Solomon, the producers of Vanguard Records.
Before John took off, playing in concerts in Canada and Europe, John recorded two albums with them. Big Bill gave John an open invitation to when the time came for him to separate from Mahalia. By 1958, John took Bill up on his offer and joined him willingly. By 1955, Big Bill had achieved celebrity status in England; he introduced Mahalia to the audiences in the Albert Hall.
Mahalia joined Bill on his program of blues and jazz. Londons first response to Mahalias gospel music was cold and bitter due to the fact that they were a stiff-baked audience and her performance was filled with melancholy. Mahalia, not accepting rejection well, left England and went to Scandinavia where the audience widely received her talents. (1) Brother John returned to New York where he helped launch a new nightclub called Gerdes Folk City. Students everywhere found enjoyment in hanging out in nightclubs where drinks and entertainment was cheap and they could enjoy the roots of music in jazz, folk and blues.
Brother John performed regularly at the nightclub, Folk City, for a few seasons. The blues music was popular but Mahalia refused to perform it herself, sticking to her gospel music. (3)Mahalia had gained an acquaintance, Martin Luther King, from when she supported the efforts in Montgomery. Mahalia loved to listen to what King had to say and saw her voice as a weapon for change. In May 1957, Mahalia sang at the Christian Leadership Conference held at Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.
C. The time for compromise was over. In May 1954, the Supreme Court decided to act on the case known as Brown et al. V. United States, dealing with the reconsideration of the Fourteenth Amendment.
For the first time in history, segregation was declared unequal, unfair and undemocratic. The community would no longer face separate but equal facilities. Progression was underway, or so it seemed. Race relations collapsed in Birmingham. The three principal black leaders, King, Shuttlesworth, and Abernathy began the morning of April 12, 1963 in leading a protest march. These three leaders were arrested and jailed as a result.
Disruptions continued as four little black girls were killed and fourteen others were wounded as the children attended a bible class in Birmingham. In mid-June, three college youths, 2 white students and one black, were found, executed Klan style. It was following this incident in 1988 that Alan Parker produced the film, Mississippi Burning, in which Mahalia Jackson recording of Take My Hand, Precious Lord was the opening theme for the soundtrack and was under the main credit for the film. The trouble continued. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X, a Black Nationalist, was shot point blank by three men in his audience.
As you can see, Mahalia moved through an illicit world of race, politics and commerce. Mahalia believed that too many people were dragging their feet and she was filled with anxiety. (1)In August 1963, the White House lawn was covered with swarms of people who had taken the day off from being mean to each other. It was a nation of people marching together. Mahalia joined Martin Luther King for his speech as she sang I Been Buked and I Been Scorned. For King, this song gave meaning and explanation behind why so many blacks had made such a great personal sacrifice.
When Mahalia worked with King, she saw herself playing a role in changing America. King enriched Mahalia and encouraged her to become more politically involved and make her voice be heard. She acquired responsibility beyond her image as a gospel singer. She definitely lived a very full life. (2)On November 22, 1963, the nation watched in amazement, as one or more sharpshooters gunned down the President.
Mahalia felt it was her duty to perform on TV for this sad occasion and sang Nearer My God to Thee. At this point, Mahalia was fifty-one and her health began to be undermined. Mahalia traveled abroad from Europe to the Middle East, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and finally Israel, the Holy Land. Some of her final trips included India, Japan and Europe once more. When she returned home, Columbia records began to worry about her health and scheduled multiple recording sessions figuring the day was nearing when she would become too sick to continue recording. The world was changing along with many peoples views.
Martin Luther King called upon Mahalia when he was in need of help. He knew that Mahalia had a strong alliance with Chicago City Hall and Mayor Daley and he wished to make an appearance with the help of Mahalias connections in Chicago. This event was set for May 27. By 1968, President Johnsons Great Society was falling apart. The thoughts that ran through Kings head at this time would make one consider him a dangerous man. 1968 was a double nightmare with the double political assignation.
On April 3rd, Dr. King spoke to his audience at the pulpit in Memphis at the Mason Temple. The night that followed, King was speaking to his followers on the balcony of the Lorraine motel when he was gunned down by a rifle shot from the building across the street. The assassin was a thirty nine-year-old man who succeeded in killing King.
On the day of Kings death, Mahalia was working with a friend, Jean Childers, on planning their chicken franchise business. Shocked and saddened, people were left wondering, what next? This was not the end. On June 4th, 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy was the next victim of being gunned down by an assassins bullet. The country feared that an organized conspiracy existed.
Mahalia pulled herself together and once again went on broadcast on CBS television in memorial of Robert Kennedy. (1)Mahalia realized her lonesomeness and had a healthy appreciation for the male sex. She needed a companion and that was going to be her next project. While singing for the church in Gary, Indiana, Mahalia met the Galloway family and immediately set her eye on the husband, Sigmund. Although he had a wife and daughter at the time, his wife died a few years later and his daughter left to live with an aunt. In 1964, Mahalia and Sigmund were married in Mahalias living room.
Again, this marriage did not last and Sigmund claimed that Mahalia was too demanding, controlling and commanding and no man would ever be able to please her! Mahalia moved out to a small place on Lake Shore and the divorce was finalized in 1967. Mahalia got whatever she wanted. In the year that followed the divorce, Mahalias excitement came when she received an invitation to perform in New Yorks Lincoln Center in a concert called Salute to Black Women. (1)Mahalia first became acquainted with Benjamin L. Hooks, as he was her preacher.
Benjamin recalls that Mahalia was battered and mistreated and she was so used to it that she had come to expect it. Many times she had been deceived, tricked and duped out of money that she worked hard to earn. She began to mistrust people and got to the point where she would demand payments before the second half of the programs. He demanded only cash, due in her hand. (2)Back to Mahalias plans with Jean Childer, they started the Mahalia Jackson Chicken System in 1967. During this time, there were no franchise companies in the south that supported the idea of doing business with a black person.
When Mahalia accepted their plan, the Hooker brothers agreed to work with Ben Hooks and Watts on this project. At this point, Mahalia was among the best known names in the black society. Six months later, the firm opened its first store in Memphis and Mahalia made a triumph appearance. Hooks and Watts added another company to their subsidiary, calling it the Mahalia Jackson Food System. This company produced over twenty-five varieties of foods, ranging from peas to beans and corn. Working with the A&P Canning Company, millions of labels on cans of vegetable and fruits were changed to bear Mahalias name and her picture on the front.
A year after Mahalia’s death, the company went bankrupt but had had many years of great success. (1)Although no one was ever able to duplicate Mahalias style exactly, many certainly tried. She held onto the notes for a longtime and changed the voice to a falsetto. Its been done before and certainly copied a number of times but none were as successful as Mahalia.
Mahalia would forever have lifetime identification with the old-time Sanctified Baptist Church services. Mahalia still refused to go into the secular world but there was no need since she was making all of the money she needed. Mahalia never lowered her standards in terms of what she believed in. People say that formal voice training could have ruined Mahalia since she had such a unique style of her own. (5)By 1967, Mahalia had moved out of her small home to a double condo where she lived with Brother John.
She fired her life long black law firm in Chicago and shocked everyone, informing them that she wanted all of her business transferred over to Eugene Shapiro, a young Chicago lawyer. This was the same year the Mahalia began to fight depression and her health began to be jeopardized. The stress of her busy schedule was beginning to take its toll on her physically. (1) Mahalias life long dream was to become a preacher in her own temple. When she arrived on the South Side of Chicago, she immediately idolized Elder Lucy Smith.
Although Smith could not read or write, she had an incredible gift of persuasion. Mahalia loved Smiths dynamic presumptions and the public work she did for the poorer communities. As Mahalia aged, she overcame her shyness and nothing held her back from approaching people, both black and white for whatever she wanted. Although Mahalia saw success during her lifetime and much fame and fortune came her way, but she never saw all of the fruit of her hard work. Mahalia had temple plans of her own and she would not be settled until they were complete. She made a donation to have her plans become a reality and thats just what happened.
She wanted to create a monument to her brothers and sisters who had come both before her and would proceed her. They, like herself had journeyed to the Promised Land. (5)On January 27, 1972, Mahalia Jackson died of a heart seizure at the age of sixty. She had worked too hard and had burned her heart out. Her death marked the eclipse of the gospels golden age.
Mahalias works possessed a magical elixir that most of her competitors had been denied. Funeral services were held at the Arie Crown Theater. The coffin was then transported back to her home in New Orleans. Following the traditional funeral services, the procession reformed at the grave and then the joy began. Bands roared tones of gospel music.
For them, they saw Mahalias death as a step toward her long journey up the glory road. (4) Mahalias life had been run by money. She had agreed that money changes people. Her friend, Brother John warned her that she was living too high and must come down but her fortune was much too important to her. Mahalia believed that people had the money she demanded and if they didnt, they would find it if they wanted to enjoy her services. She was wrestling with the two Mahalias inside herself.
The powerful, public one had fits of anger, ruthlessness and times of unthinking. The other was extremely lonely and spending hours on the phone with her ex husband. Inside she was a scared woman who was seeking a close companion. (3)In June 1975, a film entitled Kinfolks documented the life and music of Mahalia Jackson.
Her art was her work; her work was her art. (1)Bibliography:Encarta Encyclopedia, 1999