Through her recordings she became the first to bring gospel singing to the general public, Mahalia Jackson (1912–1972) was the first gospel singer to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show and became the first gospel artist to sing at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958. She was known as the “Queen of the Gospel Song.” Born in New Orleans and nicknamed “Halie,” she moved to Chicago at age sixteen, and met gospel musician and songwriter Thomas A. Dorsey, who invited her to sing at the Pilgrim Baptist Church. Dorsey became her musical advisor and accompanist. In 1937 Jackson recorded four sides for the Decca label, including the song “God’s Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares.” Her big break came in 1947 when she released gospel music’s first million-selling record “Move On Up a Little Higher.” In 1949 her song “Let the Holy Ghost Fall on Me” won the French Academy’s Grand Prix du Disque. Soon afterward she toured Europe and recorded the gospel hit “In the Upper Room.” During the 1960s Jackson became a musical ambassador. She performed at the White House as well as at London’s Albert Hall. Her voice was heard during the Civil Rights Movement, when she sang at the 1963 March on Washington and at Martin Luther King’s funeral ceremony in 1968. Jackson died in Chicago, and some forty-five thousand mourners gathered to pay their respects to her at the Great Salem Baptist Church where her funeral was held. She was hailed as the world’s greatest gospel singer, and her rich contralto voice became a national institution. Through live performances, recordings, and television appearances, Jackson elevated gospel music to a level of popularity unprecedented in the history of African-American religious music.
The “Queen of the Gospel Song,” Mahalia Jackson was hailed as a national institution.