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Quintessential gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, born on October 26, 1911 to an impoverished family in New Orleans, Louisiana, was immediately exposed to the mélange of musical styles brimming from the city. Though influenced by jazz and blues, she was drawn to gospel music and firmly established herself as a gospel singer. Her father was a Baptist minister, and she sang fervently in the gospel choir after moving to Chicago as a teen.
In 1929, Jackson met legendary composer Thomas A. Dorsey and toured with him for fourteen years. She used her commanding contralto voice to move her audiences in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia. She met Indira Gandhi while performing in India, and performed for two U.S. presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. Her mighty voice became part of the Civil Rights Movement, for she sang at the historic March on Washington and at the funeral of her friend, Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the 1950s, Mahalia Jackson performed at Carnegie Hall and at the Newport Jazz Festival, becoming the first gospel performer to do so. She was a Grammy award winner and was inducted into both the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Months after collapsing at her final performance in Munich, Germany, she died in Chicago at the age of 60.
University of Kansas