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Mahalia Jackson 

"I can't sing a song that doesn't have a message. If it doesn't have the strength, it can't lift you."

08 - In the Upper Room
Mahalia Jackson was a member of Greater Salem M. B. Church

Mahalia Jackson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on October 26, 1911 and began her singing career at an early age and attended Mt. Moriah Baptist Church as a child. She was nicknamed Halie and in 1927, Mahalia moved to Chicago, IL. Soon after, she was asked to join our church (Greater Salem) after she sang impromptu her favorite song, "Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet, Gabriel." She began touring the city's churches with the Johnson Gospel Singers.


In 1929, Mahalia met the composer Thomas A. Dorsey, known as the Father of Gospel Music. They toured the Gospel Music circuit for 14 years together. Dorsey's "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" became  Mahalia signature song. In 1948, she recorded "Move On Up a Little Higher," written by William Herbert Brewster. The record was so popular stores could not keep it in stock. That recording sold an astonishing eight million copies. The song's success skyrocketed her to fame in the U.S. and later in Europe. In 1950, Mahalia became the first gospel singer to sing at Carnegie Hall in New York. In Paris, she was called the Angel of Peace, and throughout the continent she sang to capacity audiences. In 1954, "Down Beat" magazine stated "Mahalia Jackson is the greatest spiritual singer alive."


In 1961, she sang at John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Ball. At the March on Washington in 1963, Mahalia sang in front of over 250,000 people. Mahalia prompted Dr. King to tell about the dream, referring to Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Mahalia devoted her time and talent to helping others. She established the Mahalia Jackson Scholarship Foundation for young people who desired to attend college.


On January 27, 1972, the Gospel Song Bird departed this life due to heart failure and complications from diabetes at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, IL. Two cities paid tribute, Chicago and New Orleans. In Chicago, outside of Greater Salem Church, 50,000 people came to pay their respects. The next day was standing room only at the Arie Crown Theater in McCormick Place for her two-hour funeral. Mahalia's Pastor Rev. Leon Jenkins, Sr., then Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and Mrs. Coretta Scott King all eulogized her. Her celebrity friends in attendance were Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald. Rev. Joseph H. Jackson, President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. delivered the eulogy. Aretha Franklin sang a moving rendition of "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." Three days later, in New Orleans, the tributes began again. Her casket was placed in the Rivergate Convention Center. Mayor Moon Landrieu and Louisiana Governor John McKeithen joined Gospel Singer Bessie Griffin to pay their respects. Comedian Dick Gregory praised her and Lou Rawls sang "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." The funeral procession of 24 limousines drove slowly past her childhood place of worship, Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, where her recordings were playing through loud speakers.


Mahalia is entombed at Providence Memorial Park in Metairie, Louisiana. Mahalia's estate was reported to be worth more than four million dollars.

Mahalia Jackson Rev Jenkins Sr.jpg

In Photo L to R is Dr. Hans Rookmaaker (a Dutch Art Historian),

Rev. Leon Jenkins, Sr., Mahalia Jackson & Deacon Eddie Bady

Courtesy of Special Collections, Buswell Library, Hans Rookmaaker Papers, (SC-18), Wheaton College (IL)

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