Cover image for Mahalia : a life in gospel music
Mahalia : a life in gospel music
Orgill, Roxane.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, MA : Candlewick Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xi, 132 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.9 4.0 59109.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library ML3930.J2 O74 2002 Juvenile Non-Fiction Childrens Area-Black History
Clarence Library ML3930.J2 O74 2002 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography
East Delavan Branch Library ML3930.J2 O74 2002 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography
Frank E. Merriweather Library ML3930.J2 O74 2002 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography
Frank E. Merriweather Library ML3930.J2 O74 2002 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography
Hamburg Library ML3930.J2 O74 2002 Juvenile Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Grand Island Library ML3930.J2 O74 2002 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography

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Born poor in New Orleans in 1911, young Mahalia Jackson loved singing the gospel at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church each Sunday. Swaying and clapping her hands, Mahalia made each word a mediation and could bring a congregation to its feet, astonishing all who heard her powerful voice. At the age of sixteen, she moved to Chicago and began her long road to fame. Through it all-hit records and concerts, protest marches with Martin Luther King Jr., and personal pain and loneliness - Mahalia's faith in God and justice never wavered. Roxanne Orgill's dramatic narrative reveals how Mahalia's soulful voice and message of hope helped introduce gospel music to the world, and inspired thousands of civil rights activists who marched for equality in the 1960's.

Author Notes

Roxane Orgill is an award-winning writer on music whose reviews and feature articles have appeared in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, the NEW YORK TIMES, and BILLBOARD. She is also the author of SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT! TEN GIRL SINGERS WHO SHAPED A CENTURY, and IF I ONLY HAD A HORN: YOUNG LOUIS ARMSTRONG, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins. MAHALIA is her first book with Candlewick Press.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Gr. 5-9. Orgill writes in the introduction that she was inspired by Mahalia Jackson's singing and felt "freed to write a different sort of biography. I wanted . . . to make the writing musical." The writing is different from that of standard biographies. More colloquial and impressionistic, it creates vivid scenes and sometimes stream-of-consciousness passages: "One by one the white families moved out of the neighborhood and colored families moved in, until Mahalia no longer had any white neighbors. The grass stayed green. On Sunday mornings it was still quiet." Dynamic yet readable, the book relates the story of Jackson's rise from a childhood of poverty in New Orleans to success and fame as a gospel singer of worldwide renown. As a complement to history books, this also has a lot to offer: the story of Jackson's move to Chicago mirrors the experience of many others during the Great Migration. Later in the book, Orgill's account of Jackson's pianist accompanying her on tour and meeting southern racism for the first time is a powerful evocation of the black experience during segregation. Black-and-white photographs appear throughout this beautifully designed introduction to an exceptional performer. --Carolyn Phelan

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5 Up-A readable, moving portrait of a passionately religious woman devoted to bringing the gospel to audiences around the world through her music. Jackson's remarkably strong impact on her listeners is related in anecdotes such as this one: people began knocking on church doors in New Orleans asking to be baptized just days after her recording of "God Shall Wipe Away All Tears" appeared on tavern jukeboxes in 1938. Rhythmic sentences, sometimes fragments, capture the beat of gospel music and incorporate vernacular African-American speech patterns from the 1920s to the early 1970s. Events in the singer's personal life and musical career are skillfully blended with material about the social climate of the times. Black-and-white photographs of Jackson; people and places in her life; and other aspects of African-American history such as storefront churches, segregated restrooms, and civil rights marches appear throughout the book. An excellent addition for those interested in biography, music, and African-American history.-Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



She was singing at a funeral when a man handed her his business card and said, "I want to put you on records. You had all those people crying." The card read: "J. Mayo Williams, Artists and Repertoire, Decca Records, Race Record Division." Mahalia fingered and read and reread the business card all night and the next morning. Finally she gathered her courage and telephoned. How much does it cost to make a record, she wanted to know. J. Mayo Williams, called "Ink," laughed. "Nothing. Just come on down." Twenty-five-year-old Mahalia gathered her piano player, Estelle Allen, and four gospel songs. Curious, eager John Sellers tagged along. They went to the biggest building she had ever seen, the American Furniture Mart, ten times the size of anything on Canal Street in New Orleans. Mahalia was quiet as she presented gifts to Ink Williams: a bottle of whiskey and a box of cigars. He was the musical director. He told her where to stand so the microphone could pick up the sound of both her voice and Estelle's piano and organ. In another room, the engineer turned the knobs and pulled the switches. Mahalia had Estelle play piano on the two fast tunes, "God's Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares" and "You Sing On, My Singer." Mahalia wasn't a bit nervous as she hollered, holding nothing back, " 'If you never hear me sing no more, aw, meet me on the other shore.' " For the slow numbers, "God Shall Wipe Away All Tears" and "Keep Me Every Day," she put Estelle on organ. Afterward Mahalia, Estelle, and John went out to celebrate with barbecue at a favorite restaurant close to home, but Mahalia had enough money for only two plates of ribs and one bottle of soda pop, and she put some food aside to take home to Ike. When the waitress said to her, "Oh, Mahalia, you're going to be a great singer!" she replied, "No, I don't think so." She wasn't pleased with her first recording. She thought she could do better. When the record was released in 1938, buyers were few. Gospel music was still fairly new, and confined mostly to the churches. Only one singer, Rosetta Tharpe, had had a hit gospel record, "Rock Me," on which she sang and picked guitar like a bluesman. Rosetta wasn't exactly God-fearing; she'd even sung with the big jazz bands in the dance halls. Mahalia stuck to church and was consequently little known outside of Chicago--unless you counted back home in Pinching Town. In New Orleans the taverns put a religious record into their jukeboxes for the first time, because this record wasn't by just anybody but by one of their own. The news traveled like fire: "Mahalie's on the box!" The whole family crowded into the Bumblebee Bar to listen. Aunt Bell had never been in a tavern before, but she dared to enter, along with Aunt Bessie, Cousin Celie, Cousin Allen, and all the other cousins--everyone except Aunt Duke, who was working. Even Johnny Jackson, Mahalia's father, was there. The sound of "God Shall Wipe Away All Tears" boomed from the jukebox, slow and majestic. Everyone listened closely as Mahalia made each word a meditation: " 'When we reach the blessed homeland . . . God shall wipe all tears away.' " "That's my daughter!" cried Johnny Jackson. Outside, the song blared from other taverns on other corners. Men were crying, wiping their eyes with handkerchiefs. People ran in the streets, shouting, "My God, what a voice!" In the days that followed, people knocked on church doors in New Orleans, asking to be baptized. Mahalia's voice had that much power. Mahalia. Copyright (c) 2002 Roxane Orgill. Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA. Excerpted from Mahalia: A Life in Gospel Music by Roxane Orgill All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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