Mahalia Jackson

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.