Tuesday, July 07, 2009

In Honor of M. Jackson

For decades, I have been a huge fan of M. Jackson’s music and performing abilities. They are astounding and it’s very rare that I’ve come across a musician of this caliber, especially one that can make me teary-eyed with each performance.

I’m certainly not referring to the M. Jackson that has been inundating every moment of the news lately. No, dear puppies . . .

. . . I am speaking of THE Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Gospel.

Born in New Orleans in 1911, she was raised in a three room shack with 16 other relatives. Having been forced to leave school in the eighth grade to work and support the family, she moved to Chicago at the age of 15 to live with an aunt, make a better wage, and to leave the oppressive racism of the South.

Within a year of her arrival in Chicago, the young teenager’s singing abilities were well-know across the city’s African-American gospel churches. Her deep, resonant contralto voice and ability to move an audience quickly made her very popular with various preachers in Chicago.

Miss Jackson had a very unique style of ad-libbing a vocal line and it’s one I’ve never heard before. For example, most gospel singers will sing a note and then rise to a few higher notes in order to add emphasis.

Think about Mariah Carey singing “Amazing Grace.” Once she hits the note that contains the words “like me” she’ll ad-lib that high note and leap up to several other high pitches, (most of which can only be heard by a cocker spaniel in Peoria.)

Not Mahalia. When she wanted to emphasize the “me” in Amazing Grace, her ad-libbed vocal line would hit that high note and then tumble down, down, down into a warm, velvety richness that just leaves me in a big ol' puddle of goo. It’s so unique. High notes are always impressive (Mariah) but Mahalia marched to a different drummer.

To me, that’s a lot more impressive than doing a moonwalk.

Having been influenced so heavily by New Orleans jazz and blues in her formative years, Mahalia was constantly persuaded to depart from her gospel roots and become a Blues artist.

She never did. Even when her first recording in the 1930s with Decca flopped, she never would give up being a gospel artist. Eventually, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (Grammy Awards) added a new category “Soul Gospel” so that Mahalia Jackson could receive that elusive award.

She went on to receive six Grammys in her lifetime.

She never caved in to pressure to alter her style. How admirable is that?

When Mahalia Jackson passed away in 1972, guess who sang at her funeral?

. . . None other than the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

(I wonder what kind of hat she wore for the occasion)

So, in honor of M. Jackson on this special day, please listen to that most indomitable voice and soul.

Get some hankies ready.

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At 3:33 PM , Blogger Miss Healthypants said...

She does have a wonderful voice! :)


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