Celebrating Mahalia Jackson’s Legacy 50 Years After Her Death

As we come to the end of Black History Month, we thought it would be great to celebrate one of the most influential Black Gospel Music acts of all time. Her name is “Mahalia Jackson,” and even though she’s been dead for more than 50 years, she is still considered one of the most excellent gospel musicians of all time.

Jackson was a twentieth-century gospel recording artist widely regarded as the “Queen of Gospel.” This post will tell you about this revered gospel music figure, her biography, and some interesting facts about her.

Who was Mahalia Jackson?

Mahalia began singing when she was still a very young child at the “Mount Moriah Baptist Church.” From this lowly background, she became one of the most prominent gospel music figures in the US.

Jackson’s “Move On Up a Little Higher” became a significant hit and cleared her path to gain international recognition. She worked with several renowned artists, including Thomas A. Dorsey and Duke Ellington. At a special request from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she sang at the Washington march held in 1963. 

Photo Credit: https://www.grammy.com/artists/mahalia-jackson/9116

Mahalia Jackson’s Early Life

Jackson was born in New Orleans on 26 October 1911 to Johnny Jackson and Charity Clark. She gained recognition for her powerful, rich voice, and in no time, she earned a global following. The revered singer began singing at just four years old in her church. Her original first name was “Mahala,” but she added an “I” to it after she kicked off her professional career.

Mahalia grew up in a strict and devout Christian family. Despite this fact, secular blues artists such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith were her significant influences. She stood out from the other gospel artists of her time because of her freer rhythm and movement. 

Her Major Hit

Mahalia moved to Chicago as a teenager aiming to study nursing. Shortly afterward, she started attending “Greater Salem Baptist Church” before becoming one of “Johnson Gospel Singers.” She performed with the group for several years before she began working with a gospel composer known as Thomas A. Dorsey.

The duo performed all over the United States, helping Jackson increase her followership. While making music, the gospel legend took up several jobs, including being a beautician, laundress, and owning a flower shop. Of course, she had to move on from these jobs after hitting the limelight. In 1936, Mahalia Jackson got married to Isaac Hockenhull even though they divorced later on.

Mahalia tasted significant success when she recorded “Move On Up a Little Higher” around 1947. The single sold several million copies breaking the record for the highest-selling gospel single. Her success with the single made the demand for her voice skyrocket, and she went on several tours while appearing on TV and radio shows. 

One of the significant hallmarks of her career was performing before a racially integrated audience at the Carnegie Hall on 4 October 1950. By 1954, she started airing her gospel program on the popular CBS TV network. 

Mahalia Jackson and the Civil Rights Movement 

Jackson wasn’t just a sonorous gospel voice that changed the trajectory of gospel music. She was also interested in and actively supported the “Civil Rights Movement.” As we mentioned earlier, she performed at the Washington march in 1963 on the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the song she performed is titled “I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned.”

By 1966, Jackson published “Movin’ On Up,” her autobiography. She also performed at King’s funeral in 1968 before withdrawing from communal political activities.

Death and Legacy

In the twilight of Jackson’s life, she experienced severe health problems that saw her move in and out of the hospital. She held her final concert in Munich in 1971. Mahalia Jackson died on 27 January 1972 of a heart attack.

She is loved and remembered for her passionate musical performances and commitment to spirituality and gospel music to date. She has been an inspiration to several gospel acts that have come up over the last half-century.

Interesting Facts you Should Know About Mahalia Jackson

In April 2021, a biopic about Mahalia Jackson was released titled “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia.” Several other bodies of work have celebrated the revered gospel singer. As we celebrate her legacy fifty years after her passing, we will share some interesting facts about her life in this section.

Raised in church

Mahalia’s family was highly religious, and she began singing in church at four years old. Her gospel upbringing shaped her life and music despite the influence of secular blues artists. Even when she moved to Chicago as a teenager, she still found herself in church and singing with a gospel group.

Queen of Gospel

Mahalia grew from her lowly roots to becoming the “Queen of Gospel.” This title wasn’t a nickname; she has one of the most successful and influential gospel music careers. Her first major hit song, “Move on up a Little Higher,” broke the record of the highest-selling gospel single. It paved the way for her to perform worldwide and have her gospel TV show on CBS.

Friend to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As you have read earlier, she performed at the Washington march at Dr. King’s request and his funeral. The reason for this is that the duo was quite close and shared an exciting friendship. 


While many people remember her for her musical prowess, Mahalia was also a business powerhouse. Before her music hit the limelight, she owned a flower shop and beauty shop. Mahalia even appeared in a movie titled “Imitation of Life” in 1959.

Died at 60

Mahalia Jackson passed on after a heart attack when she was sixty years old. She got married twice even though she didn’t have any children and was divorced at her demise.


What do you remember about Mahalia Jackson? Please share with us in the comments section below. Meanwhile, kindly check out GodKulture for other eye-opening articles for creatives.

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