.. stood that his name would not appear in the program credits or advertising. For twenty weeks, the Mahalia Jackson Show ran on television for a half-hour each episode. Beginning in September 1954, the show did not last very long. Mahalias show featured her singing traditional gospels and spirituals with a few miscellaneous songs but the show was missing a major component.
(2) The show was in need of a sponsor and began to go out of business. The show went from thirty minutes airtime to ten minutes and eventually ended in February 1955. This was not the end of Mahalia’s television appearances however. The TV station, WBBM-TV of Chicago asked Mahalia to be a guest on their program, “In Town Tonight”. This pleased her very much because until that point, neither she nor any other black entertainers had been sought after by networks.
She once again asked that her friend Terkel be employed as writer of the TV show when she appeared. They agreed to her requests but once again declared that Terkel would have to remain anonymous. While with Columbia, George Avakian was assigned to be Mahalias artist and repertoire man. (5) When Mahalia performed time was a key element to her. She wanted to make sure she had enough time to leave the audience with her intended message.
Mahalia became annoyed with the television and radio broadcasters because she claimed that the first thing they wanted to do was to rush her and start warning her of her time limits. “Before you knew it, theyd start cutting you off”, she claimed. To her, real gospel singing was more then just entertainment. She stressed her desire to get a message in peoples heads and did not want to be rushed. She was starting to make good money and felt that people show respect her and listen to her requests.
These were her five years of her ascendancy into the white music market. (1) In between concerts and broadcasts, Mahalia could be found with Mildred and her cousin John Stevens, who drove the ladies around in Mahalias purple Cadillac. Mahalia remembers the difficulties they went through as they traveled and they harsh prejudices they faced. She can recall a time when they couldnt find a single place to eat or sleep along the major highways. People refused to serve them because of their skin color. Some gasoline stations even refused to sell them gas, making their journeys very difficult.
In the pre-civil war days, black-touring companies were in fierce competition. It was a tradition for them to request their payments in cash at the conclusion of the program. They musicians and performers were forced to guard their earnings with their dear life. They often their money in their shoes or undergarments. Living conditions during Mahalias time were difficult and due to the circumstances listed above, she often found herself sleeping in her car alongside the road. Police rarely ever showed respect towards anyone of color.
Racism flew like mad. (1) In 1955, Rosa Parks, a seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, boarded the bus as usual but proceeded to take the first available seat in the front section, which by law was reserved for whites. When asked to, Rosa refused to give up her seat and she was arrested and briefly jailed. In 1956 Mahalia was visited by Reverend Ralph Abernathy, a colleague of Martin Luther Kings. Reverend Abernathy explained that the St.
John A.M.E. Church in Montgomery was planning on honoring Ms. Parks and they wanted Mahalia to participate by playing a bracing musical interlude. She agreed and was a huge success. In 1957, Mahalia had saved enough money to purchase of home of her very own.
She bought a single level house with a small garage in Indiana Avenue, which was mostly a white neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago. Unfortunately with her choice of locations, Mahalia faced severe discrimination once again. An unidentified person fired air-rifle pellets into her front window. This was only once incident in the rising tide of racism. (1) Once again, another opportunity opened up for Mahalia to go on television. Dinah Shore, a top TV personality of the day, insisted that her network, CBS enter into a contract with Mahalia, having her appear on the “Dinah Shore Show”.
Mahalia agreed and was quite pleased with her wide reception. This TV appearance brought along with it numerous opportunities for Mahalia. Columbia offered new recording dates, numerous TV guests shots, and various nightclubs offers. (2) In 1958, Douglas Sirk directed the film Imitation of Life, and asked Mahalia to be a part of this movie. Mahalia agreed and played the part of Louise Beaver, a happy “colored” servant.
After this films release, Mahalia made a guest appearance on TV with Bing Crosby and Dean Martin. She was in the business big time and was making big money. The fame and success she had always dreamed of was becoming a reality. (4) The call and response gospel style was Mahalias signature and Mildred never lost her way with that style. Without Mildreds blues chords, triplets and four-four bouncing, Mahalias art would have been much weaker.
Mildred have Mahalia the latitude she needed along with the freedom to adlib new lyrics, break time and alter the melodies in the heat of building the meaning of the song. Unfortunately, the conditions under which Mildred worked for Mahalia were poor. (1) Mahalia tended to be cautious with her money and severely underpaid Mildred considering all she did for her. When Mildred got up the nerve to ask for a raise so she could afford to live in a motel and eat out, Mahalia fired her. When Mahalia had money, no one could talk to her and she would close out anything and everything that she didnt want to get involved with.
(1) Good news came for Mahalia when George Avakian and his wife asked her to participate in a New York concert that would be performed in the Town Hall. Gospel songs and spirituals were considered serious and sacred music for the black church congregation. The “blues” were often considered sinful since they were secular with origins from the streets, alleys and barrelhouses. Brother John Sellers grew up in the Mississippi River towns and was exposed to gospel, blues, and eventually jazz. He loved these aspects of music and decided to cut his dependency with Mahalia Jackson.
(2) In 1953, John Hammond was making a name for himself and was drafted by Maynard and Seymour Solomon, the producers of Vanguard Records. Before John took off, playing in concerts in Canada and Europe, John recorded two albums with them. Big Bill gave John an open invitation to when the time came for him to separate from Mahalia. By 1958, John took Bill up on his offer and joined him willingly. By 1955, Big Bill had achieved celebrity status in England; he introduced Mahalia to the audiences in the Albert Hall.
Mahalia joined Bill on his program of blues and jazz. Londons first response to Mahalias gospel music was cold and bitter due to the fact that they were a stiff-baked audience and her performance was filled with melancholy. Mahalia, not accepting rejection well, left England and went to Scandinavia where the audience widely received her talents. (1) Brother John returned to New York where he helped launch a new nightclub called Gerdes Folk City. Students everywhere found enjoyment in hanging out in nightclubs where drinks and entertainment was cheap and they could enjoy the roots of music in jazz, folk and blues. Brother John performed regularly at the nightclub, Folk City, for a few seasons.
The blues music was popular but Mahalia refused to perform it herself, sticking to her gospel music. (3) Mahalia had gained an acquaintance, Martin Luther King, from when she supported the efforts in Montgomery. Mahalia loved to listen to what King had to say and saw her voice as a weapon for change. In May 1957, Mahalia sang at the Christian Leadership Conference held at Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The time for compromise was over. In May 1954, the Supreme Court decided to act on the case known as Brown et al.
V. United States, dealing with the reconsideration of the Fourteenth Amendment. For the first time in history, segregation was declared unequal, unfair and undemocratic. The community would no longer face “separate but equal” facilities. Progression was underway, or so it seemed.
Race relations collapsed in Birmingham. The three principal black leaders, King, Shuttlesworth, and Abernathy began the morning of April 12, 1963 in leading a protest march. These three leaders were arrested and jailed as a result. Disruptions continued as four little black girls were killed and fourteen others were wounded as the children attended a bible class in Birmingham. In mid-June, three college youths, 2 white students and one black, were found, executed Klan style.
It was following this incident in 1988 that Alan Parker produced the film, Mississippi Burning, in which Mahalia Jackson recording of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” was the opening theme for the soundtrack and was under the main credit for the film. The trouble continued. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X, a Black Nationalist, was shot point blank by three men in his audience. As you can see, Mahalia moved through an illicit world of race, politics and commerce. Mahalia believed that too many people were dragging their feet and she was filled with anxiety.
(1) In August 1963, the White House lawn was covered with swarms of people who had taken the day off from being mean to each other. It was a nation of people marching together. Mahalia joined Martin Luther King for his speech as she sang “I Been Buked and I Been Scorned”. For King, this song gave meaning and explanation behind why so many blacks had made such a great personal sacrifice. When Mahalia worked with King, she saw herself playing a role in changing America.
King enriched Mahalia and encouraged her to become more politically involved and make her voice be heard. She acquired responsibility beyond her image as a gospel singer. She definitely lived a very full life.(2) On November 22, 1963, the nation watched in amazement, as one or more sharpshooters gunned down the President. Mahalia felt it was her duty to perform on TV for this sad occasion and sang “Nearer My God to Thee”. At this point, Mahalia was fifty-one and her health began to be undermined. Mahalia traveled abroad from Europe to the Middle East, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and finally Israel, the Holy Land.
Some of her final trips included India, Japan and Europe once more. When she returned home, Columbia records began to worry about her health and scheduled multiple recording sessions figuring the day was nearing when she would become too sick to continue recording. The world was changing along with many peoples views. Martin Luther King called upon Mahalia when he was in need of help. He knew that Mahalia had a strong alliance with Chicago City Hall and Mayor Daley and he wished to make an appearance with the help of Mahalias connections in Chicago. This event was set for May 27.
By 1968, President Johnsons “Great Society” was falling apart. The thoughts that ran through Kings head at this time would make one consider him a dangerous man. 1968 was a double nightmare with the double political assignation. On April 3rd, Dr. King spoke to his audience at the pulpit in Memphis at the Mason Temple. The night that followed, King was speaking to his followers on the balcony of the Lorraine motel when he was gunned down by a rifle shot from the building across the street.
The assassin was a thirty nine-year-old man who succeeded in killing King. On the day of Kings death, Mahalia was working with a friend, Jean Childers, on planning their chicken franchise business. Shocked and saddened, people were left wondering, what next? This was not the end. On June 4th, 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy was the next victim of being gunned down by an assassins bullet. The country feared that an organized conspiracy existed.
Mahalia pulled herself together and once again went on broadcast on CBS television in memorial of Robert Kennedy. (1) Mahalia realized her lonesomeness and had a healthy appreciation for the male sex. She needed a companion and that was going to be her next project. While singing for the church in Gary, Indiana, Mahalia met the Galloway family and immediately set her eye on the husband, Sigmund. Although he had a wife and daughter at the time, his wife died a few years later and his daughter left to live with an aunt. In 1964, Mahalia and Sigmund were married in Mahalias living room. Again, this marriage did not last and Sigmund claimed that Mahalia was too demanding, controlling and commanding and no man would ever be able to please her! Mahalia moved out to a small place on Lake Shore and the divorce was finalized in 1967.
Mahalia got whatever she wanted. In the year that followed the divorce, Mahalias excitement came when she received an invitation to perform in New Yorks Lincoln Center in a concert called “Salute to Black Women.” (1) Mahalia first became acquainted with Benjamin L. Hooks, as he was her preacher. Benjamin recalls that Mahalia was battered and mistreated and she was so used to it that she had come to expect it. Many times she had been deceived, tricked and duped out of money that she worked hard to earn. She began to mistrust people and got to the point where she would demand payments before the second half of the programs. He demanded only cash, due in her hand. (2) Back to Mahalias plans with Jean Childer, they started the Mahalia Jackson Chicken System in 1967.
During this time, there were no franchise companies in the south that supported the idea of doing business with a black person. When Mahalia accepted their plan, the Hooker brothers agreed to work with Ben Hooks and Watts on this project. At this point, Mahalia was among the best known names in the black society. Six months later, the firm opened its first store in Memphis and Mahalia made a triumph appearance. Hooks and Watts added another company to their subsidiary, calling it the “Mahalia Jackson Food System”. This company produced over twenty-five varieties of foods, ranging from peas to beans and corn. Working with the A Canning Company, millions of labels on cans of vegetable and fruits were changed to bear Mahalias name and her picture on the front.
A year after Mahalia’s death, the company went bankrupt but had had many years of great success. (1) Although no one was ever able to duplicate Mahalias style exactly, many certainly tried. She held onto the notes for a longtime and changed the voice to a falsetto. Its been done before and certainly copied a number of times but none were as successful as Mahalia. Mahalia would forever have lifetime identification with the old-time Sanctified Baptist Church services. Mahalia still refused to go into the secular world but there was no need since she was making all of the money she needed.
Mahalia never lowered her standards in terms of what she believed in. People say that formal voice training could have ruined Mahalia since she had such a unique style of her own. (5) By 1967, Mahalia had moved out of her small home to a double condo where she lived with Brother John. She fired her life long black law firm in Chicago and shocked everyone, informing them that she wanted all of her business transferred over to Eugene Shapiro, a young Chicago lawyer. This was the same year the Mahalia began to fight depression and her health began to be jeopardized.
The stress of her busy schedule was beginning to take its toll on her physically. (1) Mahalias life long dream was to become a preacher in her own temple. When she arrived on the South Side of Chicago, she immediately idolized Elder Lucy Smith. Although Smith could not read or write, she had an incredible gift of persuasion. Mahalia loved Smiths dynamic presumptions and the public work she did for the poorer communities.
As Mahalia aged, she overcame her shyness and nothing held her back from approaching people, both black and white for whatever she wanted. Although Mahalia saw success during her lifetime and much fame and fortune came her way, but she never saw all of the fruit of her hard work. Mahalia had temple plans of her own and she would not be settled until they were complete. She made a donation to have her plans become a reality and thats just what happened. She wanted to create a monument to her brothers and sisters who had come both before her and would proceed her.
They, like herself had journeyed to the Promised Land. (5) On January 27, 1972, Mahalia Jackson died of a heart seizure at the age of sixty. She had worked too hard and had burned her heart out. Her death marked the eclipse of the gospels golden age. Mahalias works possessed a magical elixir that most of her competitors had been denied.
Funeral services were held at the Arie Crown Theater. The coffin was then transported back to her home in New Orleans. Following the traditional funeral services, the procession reformed at the grave and then the joy began. Bands roared tones of gospel music. For them, they saw Mahalias death as a step toward her long journey up the glory road. (4) Mahalias life had been run by money.
She had agreed that money changes people. Her friend, Brother John warned her that she was living too high and must come down but her fortune was much too important to her. Mahalia believed that people had the money she demanded and if they didnt, they would find it if they wanted to enjoy her services. She was wrestling with the two Mahalias inside herself. The powerful, public one had fits of anger, ruthlessness and times of unthinking. The other was extremely lonely and spending hours on the phone with her ex husband.
Inside she was a scared woman who was seeking a close companion. (3) In June 1975, a film entitled “Kinfolks” documented the life and music of Mahalia Jackson. Her art was her work; her work was her art. (1) Bibliography Encarta Encyclopedia, 1999.