25 Facts About Gospel Trailblazer Mahalia Jackson

To the numerous trailblazers receiving special attention this Black History Month, The Network Journal adds Mahalia Jackson, a platinum-selling, seven-time Grammy-winning gospel singer and political activist, hailed “The Queen of Gospel” in her heyday.

Jackson won international fame both for her musical prowess and her civil rights activism. Here are 25 facts about the legendary contralto:

  1. Mahalia Jackson was born in New Orleans in 1911 and died in 1972, at just 60, of heart failure and complications related to diabetes.
  2. During her career she recorded some 30 albums, with 12 of her 45 r.p.m. records going “gold” after each sold one million copies.
  3. She began singing at the age of 4 at her local Mount Moriah Baptist Church.
  4. Born “Mahala” and called “Halie” as a child, she changed her name to “Mahalia” as an adult.
  5. She was born into brutal poverty, in a house shared by 13 family members and a dog.
  6. Her mother died in 1917 and Jackson and her little brother, Peter, were forced to work in the house from dawn to dusk under the harsh eye of their Aunt Duke. If Aunt Duke felt the house was not properly cleaned, Halie was beaten with a “cat-o-nine-tails.”
  7. Jackson had to quit school when she was in the fourth grade in order to work at home.
  8. At sixteen she moved to Chicago with an aunt to study nursing and worked as a domestic to support herself.
  9. She joined Chicago’s Greater Salem Baptist Church and began to earn a living with her voice.
  10. Jackson and African-American composer-pianist Thomas Andrew Dorsey formed a traveling act that ushered in the Golden Age of Gospel.
  11. Jackson became one of the wealthiest and most powerful entertainers in the world. She owned a beauty shop and invested in real estate. At her death her estate was worth well over one million dollars.
  12. She was known as the mentor and inspiration behind famed award-winning singer Aretha Franklin, “Queen of Soul.”
  13. She was the first gospel singer to perform at Carnegie Hall.
  14. She was the first gospel music artist to win the Grammy Award.
  15. She vowed never to sing secular (“blues”) music and refused lucrative recording contracts and theater work to keep her vow.
  16. She traveled the world, including to Africa, the Caribbean, Japan and India, performing for audiences that included presidents, kings, and queens. Her signature song was Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”
  17. She was inducted into the Music Hall of Fame of Louisiana in December 2008.
  18. She received the Silver Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association of the United States for her efforts in helping international understanding,
  19. She was a formidable activist behind the scenes of some of America’s most influential politicians during the country’s tumultuous civil rights period.
  20. She was known as the inspiration behind the Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and was a driving force behind John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign.
  21. Harry Belafonte once described her as “the single most powerful Black woman in the United States.”
  22. She established the Mahalia Jackson Scholarship Foundation for young people who wanted to attend college.
  23. She wrote three books, Mahalia Jackson Cooks Soul(1970), and I Sing Because I’m Happy, Volumes 1 and 2.
  24. She was married twice, first to Isaac Hockenhull, a graduate of Fisk University and Tuskegee Institute, and later to jazz musician Sigmond Galloway. She had no biological children.
  25. Mahalia Jackson’s life is being portrayed in three upcoming biopics:

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