Thursday, October 26, 2006
See and hear Mahalia Jackson sing "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," free from Youtube.com
She grew up in the "Black Pearl" section of the Carrollton neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans, Louisiana, and began singing in a Baptist church. In 1927 she moved to Chicago, Illinois, where she sang with The Johnson Brothers, one of the earliest professional gospel groups.
The Johnson Brothers broke up in the mid-1930s, and Jackson began her solo career, recording for Decca in 1937. The result, "God's Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares", was only a moderate success, but Jackson became a popular concert draw. She experienced a recording hiatus until 1946 when she signed with Apollo Records, releasing several singles that are now highly regarded, though sales were sluggish at the time. "Move on up a Little Higher" (1948) became a huge success, however, and stores could not stock enough of it to meet demand. Jackson rocketed to fame in the U.S. and soon after in Europe. "I Can Put My Trust in Jesus" won a prize from the French Academy, and "Silent Night" was one of the best-selling singles in the history of Norway. She began a radio series on CBS and signed to Columbia Records in 1954. With her mainstream success came an inevitable backlash from gospel purists who felt she had watered down her sound for popular accessibility.
Jackson's career in the late 1950s and early 1960s continued to rise when she recorded with Percy Faith, and performed at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. She also sang at the funeral of her friend Martin Luther King, Jr. The late 1960s saw a downturn in her popular success. She ended her career with a concert in Germany in 1971; when she returned, she made one of her final television appearances on The Flip Wilson Show.
In the mid-1960s, Jackson and country commediene Minnie Pearl were convinced by Nashville entrepreneur John Jay Hooker to lend their names to chains of fried chicken resturants to compete with Kentucky Fried Chicken aimed at their respective predominantly black and white entertainment audiences. Jackson's chain used the memorable tag line "It's Glori-fried!" The venture collapsed amid claims of accounting irregularities, stock-price fixing, and other fraud, but a long U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation showed that neither Jackson nor Pearl had any involvement in, or knowledge of, the wrongdoing. One "Mahalia Jackson's Fried Chicken" outlet still remains in Nashville as of 2006 and enjoys considerable success and local fame in the vicinity of the Tennessee State University campus.
Jackson died in Chicago on January 27, 1972, of heart failure and diabetes at the age of 60. She was buried in Providence Memorial Park in Metairie, Louisiana. She was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Association's Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1978.