Nearly a half century after her death in 1972, Mahalia Jackson remains the most esteemed figure in Black gospel music history. Born in the backstreets of New Orleans in 1911, during the Great Depression Jackson joined the Great Migration to Chicago, where she became a highly regarded church singer and, by the mid-fifties, a coveted recording artist lauded as the world’s greatest gospel singer.
This “Louisiana Cinderella” narrative of Jackson’s career during the decade following World War II carried important meanings for African Americans, though it remains a story half told. Jackson was gospel’s first multi-mediated artist, with a nationally broadcast radio program, a Chicago-based television show, and early recordings that introduced straight-out-of-the-church Black gospel to American and European audiences while also tapping the vogue for religious pop in the early Cold War.
In some ways, Jackson’s successes made her an exceptional case, though she is perhaps best understood as part of broader developments in the Black gospel field. Built upon foundations laid by pioneering Chicago organizers in the 1930s, Black gospel singing, with Jackson as its most visible representative, began to circulate in novel ways as a form of popular culture in the 1940s and 1950s, its practitioners accruing prestige not only through devout integrity but also from their charismatic artistry, public recognition, and pop-cultural cachet. These years also saw shifting strategies in the Black freedom struggle that gave new cultural-political significance to African American vernacular culture.
This according to Mahalia Jackson and the Black gospel field by Mark Burford (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).
Today would have been Jackson’s 110th birthday! Below, performing in 1962.
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Hosted by the Archives of African American Music & Culture at Indiana University, Black Grooves is a review site that aims to promote black music by providing monthly updates on interesting new releases and quality reissues in all genres—gospel, blues, jazz, funk, soul, and hip hop, as well as classical music composed or performed by black artists.
Reviews of selected new discs and DVDs are featured, with occasional attention to books and news items. An extra effort is made to track down releases by indie, underground, foreign, and other labels that are not covered in the mainstream media. While the primary focus is on African American music, related areas such as Afropop and reggae are also covered.
This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here for a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.
An installment in the Library of Congress’s American memory series, “Now what a time”: Blues, gospel, and the Fort Valley Music Festivals, 1938–1943 presents approximately 100 sound recordings—primarily African American blues and gospel songs—and related documentation from the folk festival at Fort Valley State College (now Fort Valley State University), Fort Valley, Georgia, in 1941 and 1943.
Song lists made by the collectors, correspondence with the Archive about the trips, and a special issue of the Fort Valley State College student newsletter, The Peachite: Festival number, are also included. Notable in this collection is the topical rewording of several standard gospel songs to address the wartime concerns of the performers.
This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.
Folkstreams is an archive of hard-to-find documentary films about traditional cultures that gives them new life by streaming them on the Internet. Founded in 2002 by the filmmakers Tom and Mimi Davenport, the idea grew out of “our love of filmmaking, a respect for the traditional culture of ordinary Americans, and a desire to get our work to the general public.”
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