Janis Joplin and Grace Slick are often cited as pioneering women in rock.
But the genre's roots go deeper, to artists such as Mahalia Jackson, a
powerful gospel singer who dominated spiritual music from the 1930s
through the '60s.
Mahalia Jackson was born October 26, 1911, in New Orleans. She and her
family attended New Orleans' Mount Moriah Baptist Church, where she was
part of the choir.
The grainy-voiced Jackson was greatly influenced by blues singers Ma
Rainey and Bessie Smith. Jackson, a powerful vocalist, loved New Orleans
jazz and blues and incorporated elements of those styles into her
Jackson moved to Chicago in 1927, where she worked as a housemaid and
nurse and began performing with the Prince Johnson singers. She made her
recording debut in 1935, with Decca Records, who discovered her while
she was singing at a funeral.
It was with Apollo Records, however, that Jackson's recording career took
flight and where she cut her classic sides. She sold more than 2 million
copies with "Move On Up" (RealAudio
excerpt) a song that in concert she often elongated to almost
half an hour. Jackson was always accompanied onstage by pianist Mildred
When Jackson moved to Columbia Records in the '50s, its A&R director,
Mitch Miller, added strings and choirs to her recordings. This new approach
made Jackson more mainstream, but her subsequent recordings lacked her
trademark bluesy bluster.
Other gospel classics covered by Jackson include "He's Got the Whole World
in His Hands," "Just Over the Hill" and "How I Got Over."
Her albums included Bless This House (1963), Sings the Best-Loved
Hymns of Dr. Martin Luther King (1968), Sings America's Favorite
Hymns (1971) and The Great Mahalia Jackson (1972).
Jackson's profile remained high through the '60s as she performed on
television and sang for U.S. presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. Jackson
also sang for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. before his landmark "I Have a
Dream" speech, delivered during the March on Washington D.C., in 1963.
She succumbed to heart disease on January 27, 1972, in Chicago.
Jackson whom Little Richard once referred to as "the true queen
of spiritual singers" was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame in 1997 as an early influence. Columbia/Legacy issued the Jackson
retrospective Gospels, Spirituals and Hymns in 1991.
Earlier this year, Indigo/DNA Records issued the Amazing Grace
collection, featuring tracks such as "God Shall Wipe All Tears Away."
Other birthdays on Tuesday: Keith Hopwood (Herman's Hermits), 53; Bootsy
Collins, 48; Maggie Roche (Roches), 48; Keith Strickland (B-52's), 46;
Natalie Merchant, 36.