Today's music is from a gospel singer, who throughout her celebrated career, used her rich, forceful voice and inspiring interpretations of spirituals to move audiences around the world to tears of joy. In the early days, as a soloist and member of church choirs, she recognized the power of song as a means of gloriously reaffirming the faith of her flock. And later, as a world figure, her natural gift brought people of different religious and political convictions together to revel in the beauty of the gospels and to appreciate the warm spirit that underscored the way she lived her life. ... N'joy
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General critical consensus holds Mahalia Jackson as the greatest gospel singer ever to live; a major crossover success whose popularity extended across racial divides, she was gospel's first superstar, and even decades after her death remains, for many listeners, a defining symbol of the music's transcendent power. With her singularly expressive contralto, Jackson continues to inspire the generations of vocalists who follow in her wake; among the first spiritual performers to introduce elements of blues into her music, she infused gospel with a sensuality and freedom it had never before experienced, and her artistry rewrote the rules forever. Born in one of the poorest sections of New Orleans on October 16, 1911, Jackson made her debut in the children's choir of the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church at the age of four, and within a few years was a prominent member of the Mt. Moriah Baptist's junior choir. Raised next door to a sanctified church, she was heavily influenced by their brand of gospel, with its reliance on drums and percussion over piano; another major inspiration was the blues of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.
By the time she reached her mid-teens, then, Jackson's unique vocal style was fully formed, combining the full-throated tones and propulsive rhythms of the sanctified church and the deep expressiveness of the blues with the note-bending phrasing of her Baptist upbringing. After quitting school during the eighth grade, Jackson relocated to Chicago in 1927, where she worked as a maid and laundress; within months of her arrival, she was singing leads with the choir at the Greater Salem Baptist Church, where she joined the three sons of her pastor in their group the Johnson Brothers. Although other small choir groups had cut records in the past, the Johnson Brothers might have been the first professional gospel unit ever; the first organized group to play the Chicago church circuit, they even produced a series of self-written musical dramas in which Jackson assumed the lead role. Her provocative performing style -- influenced by the Southern sanctified style of keeping time with the body and distinguished by jerks and steps for physical emphasis -- enraged many of the more conservative Northern preachers, but few could deny her fierce talent.
After the members of the Johnson Brothers went their separate ways during the mid-'30s, Jackson began her solo career accompanied by pianist Evelyn Gay, who herself later went on to major fame as one half of gospel's Gay Sisters. During the week, Jackson also went to beauty school, and soon opened her own salon. As her reputation as a singer grew throughout the Midwest, in 1937 she made her first recordings for Decca, becoming the first gospel artist signed to the label; curiously, none of the tracks she recorded during her May 21 session was by Thomas A. Dorsey, the legendary composer for whom she began working as a song demonstrator around that same time. (He even wrote "Peace in the Valley" with her in mind.) While her Decca single "God's Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares" sold only modestly, prompting a lengthy studio hiatus, Jackson's career continued on the upswing -- she soon began performing live in cities as far away as Buffalo, New Orleans, and Birmingham, becoming famous in churches throughout the country for not only her inimitable voice but also her flirtatious stage presence and spiritual intensity.
In 1939, Jackson started touring with renowned composer Thomas A. Dorsey. Together they visited churches and "gospel tents" around the country, and Jackson's reputation as a singer and interpreter of spirituals blossomed. She returned to Chicago after five years on the road and opened a beauty salon and a flower shop, both of which drew customers from the gospel and church communities. She continued to make records that brought her fairly little monetary reward. In 1946, while she was practicing in a recording studio, a representative from Decca Records overheard her sing an old spiritual she had learned as a child. He advised her to record it, and a few weeks later she did. "Move On Up a Little Higher" became her signature song. The recording sold 100,000 copies overnight and soon passed the two million dollar mark. "It sold like wildfire," Alex Haley wrote in Reader's Digest. "Negro disk jockeys played it; Negro ministers praised it from their pulpits. When sales passed one million, the Negro press hailed Mahalia Jackson as 'the only Negro whom Negroes have made famous."'
Beginning in 1950, she became a regular guest on journalist Studs Terkel's Chicago television series, and among White intellectuals and jazz critics, she acquired a major cult following based in large part on her eerie similarities to Bessie Smith. In 1952, her recording of "I Can Put My Trust in Jesus" even won a prize from the French Academy, resulting in a successful tour of Europe -- her rendition of "Silent Night" even became one of the all-time best-selling records in Norway's history.
Jackson's success soon reached such dramatic proportions that in 1954 she began hosting her own weekly radio series on CBS, the first program of its kind to broadcast the pure, sanctified gospel style over national airwaves. The show surrounded her with a supporting cast which included not only pianist Mildred Falls and organist Ralph Jones, but also a White quartet led by musical director Jack Halloran; although her performances with Halloran's group moved Jackson far away from traditional gospel towards an odd hybrid which crossed the line into barbershop quartet singing, they proved extremely popular with White audiences, and her transformation into a true crossover star was complete. Also in 1954 she signed to Columbia, scoring a Top 40 hit with the single "Rusty Old Halo," and two years later made her debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. However, with Jackson's success came the inevitable backlash -- purists decried her music's turn toward more pop-friendly production, and as her fame soared, so did her asking price, so much so that by the late '50s, virtually no Black churches could afford to pay her performance fee.
A triumphant appearance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival solidified Jackson's standing among critics, but her records continued moving her further away from her core audience -- when an LP with Percy Faith became a smash, Columbia insisted on more recordings with orchestras and choirs; she even cut a rendition of "Guardian Angels" backed by comic Harpo Marx. In 1959, she appeared in the film Imitation of Life, and two years later sang at John F. Kennedy's Presidential inauguration. During the '60s, Jackson was also a confidant and supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, and at his funeral sang his last request, "Precious Lord"; throughout the decade she was a force in the civil rights movement, but after 1968, with King and the brothers Kennedy all assassinated, she retired from the political front. At much the same time, Jackson went through a messy and very public divorce, prompting a series of heart attacks and the rapid loss of over a hundred pounds; in her last years, however, she recaptured much of her former glory, concluding her career with a farewell concert in Germany in 1971. She died January 27, 1972.
Jackson considered herself a simple woman: she enjoyed cooking for friends as much as marveling at landmarks around the world. But it was in her music that she found her spirit most eloquently expressed. She wrote in her autobiography: "Gospel music is nothing but singing of good tidings-spreading the good news. It will last as long as any music because it is sung straight from the human heart. Join with me sometime-whether you're white or colored-and you will feel it for yourself. Its future is brighter than a daisy."
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Live at Newport is a wonderful reissue of the Newport 1958 album, containing all 15 songs that were on the original record. Jackson was at the peak of her career, and she gave a stunning performance at this show, lifting such songs as "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands," "Lord's Prayer," "Evening Prayer," "I'm on My Way," "Walk over God's Heaven" and "His Eye is on the Sparrow" to glorious heights. Epiphany, is the word that describes this album best. The power, energy, and the conviction that Mahalia possesses has never been duplicated. If while listening to such outstanding cuts like, "The lord's Prayer, Didn't It Rain, When The Saints Go Marching In, On My Way, An Evening's Prayer, and A walk In Heaven, you are not moved, then may I suggest to check for a pulse. It's not only one of the great live gospel albums, it's simply one of the great gospel albums.
Mahalia Jackson - Newport 1958 (flac 230mb)
01 An Evening Prayer 2:30
02 I'm On My Way 3:00
03 A City Called Heaven 3:40
04 It Don't Cost Very Much 3:10
05 Walk Over God's Heaven 2:55
06 The Lord's Prayer 3:42
07 Didn't It Rain 2:35
08 My God Is Real (Yes, God Is Real) 3:35
09 He's Got The Whole World In His Hands 2:25
10 I'm Going To Live The Life I Sing About In My Song 3:48
11 Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho 2:20
12 His Eye Is On The Sparrow 4:20
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Jackson wasn't just gospel music's first international superstar--she was among its earliest adherents and inventors. Working with the great composer and former blues singer Thomas A. Dorsey in the late 1930s, Jackson gave a distinctly blues-trained, jazzy sass and grace to Dorsey's material and the other hymns and spirituals she sang. More than any other performer, she helped to define gospel music itself as a transcendent, rootsy, melismatic, and heady spiritual sound. Culled from her sides for Columbia between 1954 and 1969, some of the arrangements in the set are not ideal and may sound quite a bit dated, but that voice shines and soars and dives straight to the center of your heart. Whether backed by a simple organ or piano or with full studio accompaniment, Jackson's booming, instantly recognizable contralto is indescribable, exciting, and forever a wonder to behold. And if you think that's an exaggeration, you have a thing coming.
Mahalia Jackson - Gospels, Spirituals and Hymns 1 (flac 296mb)
01 Didn't It Rain 2:37
02 My God Is Real (Yes, God Is Real) 3:37
03 Walk Over God's Heaven 2:14
04 If I Can Help Somebody 3:46
05 Come On Children, Let's Sing 1:55
06 What A Friend We Have In Jesus 4:06
07 I Found The Answer 4:18
08 It Is Well With My Soul 5:32
09 Great Gettin' Up In The Morning 3:41
10 You Must Be Born Again 1:59
11 Elijah Rock 5:03
12 Jesus Met The Woman At The Well 2:25
13 A Satisfied Mind 3:08
14 Keep Your Hand On The Plow 2:29
15 Roll, Jordan, Roll 3:57
16 Calvary 3:44
17 In My Home Over There 3:22
18I Will Move On Up A Little Higher 5:25
Mahalia Jackson - Gospels, Spirituals and Hymns 2 (flac 315mb)
01 In The Upper Room 7:10
02 The Christian's Testimony 2:32
03 If We Never Needed The Lord Before (We Sure Do Need Him Now) 4:19
04 A City Called Heaven 2:48
05 Trouble Of The World 4:44
06 Without God I Could Do Nothing 4:39
07 Take My Hand, Precious Lord 4:12
08 Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho 2:04
09 His Eye Is On The Sparrow 4:21
10 God Put A Rainbow In The Sky 3:09
11 He's Got The Whole World In His Hands 2:35
12 A Rusty Old Halo 2:18
13 Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen 3:45
14 Dear Lord, Forgive 2:27
15 I'm Going To Live The Life I Sing About In My Song 4:01
16 Search Me Lord 3:24
17 If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again 3:21
18 Walk On By Faith 3:52
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