One of the most inspiring yet haunting voices I’ve ever heard is that of the legendary Mahalia Jackson. There are a few others that are in that pantheon with her in my mind including Celia Cruz, Ella Fitzgerald, and Aretha Franklin. But there is something so powerful and other wordly in Mahalia’s sound. I cannot put words to it, perhaps it is the hand of God. I can’t recall when I first heard her voice, I believe it was my junior high best friend’s vinyl record of hers. Yes we were unusual 80s pre-teens listening to old blues and gospel in our California rooms. It was surreal and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck as a bit of fear pulsed through me as I heard a direct line to the Divine.
It seems appropriate that Mahalia was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, the birthplace of some of the best American music that has ever existed. She came from a challenging upbringing like so many blues singers that were her contemporaries. She found her solace and hope in the church and singing the songs of the Lord. According to Wikipedia:
“Mahalia Jackson… became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist… She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career…’I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free,’ Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, ‘It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.'”
Here she is with a classic, Summertime/Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child:
Here is the haunting and inspiring, Lord Don’t Move The Mountain, covered dozens of times since:
Here is a particularly emotional video of Mahalia singing at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral. Simply stunning and tragic: