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THE RELIGION CORNER: Mahalia Jackson — A Lifetime Story

What a good movie to me! It was very enjoyable to see the story of the life of Mahalia Jackson, starring Danielle Brooks as Mahalia. This was a Robin Roberts movie — great job Robin!

My love for Mahalia Jackson began for me and my family as a child, when our mother would share with us how she cleaned and pressed the clothing of Mahalia Jackson. Her music was heard at our home on an old-fashioned record player. We had several Mahalia Jackson albums, but the one I remember most was her Christmas album. In fact, when mother passed on Christmas Day, we played the Mahalia Jackson Christmas album during mother’s wake services.

Every year, it didn’t feel like Christmas until we played that album on our nice stereo. We had one with excellent speakers, it was a beautiful, wooden cabinet with built in speakers, radio and record player. Our family called our stereo set by the pet name, Johnson.

Why did I enjoy the movie? Mahalia’s story is truly inspirational. It didn’t appear she set out to become famous, she just loved to sing. Then she began to sing to supplement her income. Then one thing led to another.

My biggest surprise was the fact that she married twice, and was in love with a preacher which appeared to be the love of her life. His life was cut short due to cancer which was in the final stages. She never had children of her own, but she did become the mother to a boy that she met on the streets one day. Mahalia was always helping others, but this young boy felt as though he should be her son.

According to Biography.com, Mahalia Jackson grew up on the south side of Chicago. She started singing as a child at Mount Moriah Baptist Church and went on to become one of the most revered gospel figures in the United States. Her recording of “Move On Up a Little Higher” was a civil rights song, and was a major hit. She subsequently became an international figure for music lovers from a variety of backgrounds, working with artists like Duke Ellington and Thomas A. Dorsey. Then there was the 1963 March on Washington where she sang at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

She became one of gospel music’s all-time greats, known for her rich, powerful voice that caused her to have fans world-wide. She grew up in a Pitt Street shack and started singing at 4 years old in the Mount Moriah Baptist Church. When she started to sing professionally, she added an “i” to her first name.

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, after her family moved to Chicago as a teen with the aim of studying nursing, Jackson joined the Greater Salem Baptist Church and soon became a member of the Johnson Gospel Singers. She performed with the group for a number of years. Jackson then started working with Thomas A. Dorsey, a gospel composer; the two performed around the U.S., further cultivating an audience for Jackson. She also took on a number of jobs — working as a laundress, beautician and flower shop owner for example — before her musical career went into the stratosphere. She married Isaac Hockenhull in 1936, with the two later divorcing.

“Move On Up a Little Higher” came a long way back in 1947, it sold millions of copies and became the highest selling gospel single in history. Her demand grew, then came radio, television appearances and tours. The biggest deal for her was when she performed in Carnegie Hall on Oct. 4, 1950, after which she was featured on the cover of major newspapers.

According to the movie, she was awfully nervous about that appearance, but she performed even more admirably, which took her success even further, making the cover page of major newspapers. The audience was racially integrated.

Jackson also had a successful 1952 tour abroad in Europe, and she was especially popular in France and Norway. She had her own gospel program on the CBS television network in 1954.

Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrant.com, email lyndiagrantshowdc@gmail.com or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.

Lyndia Grant

A seasoned radio talk show host, national newspaper columnist, and major special events manager, Lyndia is a change agent. Those who experience hearing messages by this powerhouse speaker are changed forever!

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