Mahalia Jackson was born to a Baptist minister in a small town in Louisiana. She started singing in her church choir at the age of 4 and went on to become internationally known as the First Lady of Gospel Music. Always mindful that her ability came from God, she was driven to use her gift to spread the message of His love to the nations.
Mahalia’s faithfulness to God opened doors of favor for her. Her career spanned 45 years and included 4 Grammy’s and over 30 albums. Her hit song, Move on Up a Little Higher was the first gospel record to appear on Billboard’s Top 100 list, bringing her national recognition. Other firsts for Jackson include having the first national gospel radio program, being the first gospel singer to appear on the Ed Sullivan show, being the first gospel act to perform at Carnegie Hall, and having the first gospel television show on CBS. At the peak of her career, the local churches where her career was born could no longer afford her performance fees, so she often performed for them free of charge.
As a Kingdom Ambassador, Mahalia used her popularity to call attention to the Civil Rights Movement, singing at the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and at many of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s rallies. Five years after singing at Dr. King’s historic I Have a Dream speech, Jackson performed Take My Hand, Precious Lord at his funeral.
Despite pressure from her record label to add more secular music to her albums, Mahalia refused to ever perform anything but religious music, saying, “When you sing gospel, you have a feeling there is a cure for what’s wrong. But when you are through with the blues, you’ve got nothing to rest on.” She also refused to perform in surroundings she considered inappropriate, turning down many offers to sing in Las Vegas.
Mahalia Jackson lived her dream until the very end of her life. She was a powerful voice for the Kingdom of God. Mahalia was more than a famous singer; she was a savvy business owner with many real estate holdings, and she was very involved in politics and international relations, singing at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration and performing by request for the royal families of Spain, France, Denmark and England. She was truly an Ambassador for the Cause of Christ, using her voice to proclaim His goodness to all nations.