Mahalia Jackson: Celebrating a Gospel Legend's Birthday

Gospel music legend Mahalia Jackson, who became widely known for her performance at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy and the funeral of her friend Martin Luther King, Jr., would have been 95 years old on Thursday. Producer Barrett Golding of the Hearing Voices radio project offers a remembrance.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The late gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was born 95 years ago today. She was a gospel music mega-star. She recorded albums. She had her own CBS radio show. She performed at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Mahalia Jackson grew up in Carrolton section of New Orleans. In an interview she gave in the 1950s, Jackson talked about the music of her hometown. Producer Barrett Golding created this appreciation using Mahalia Jackson's words and music.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. MAHALIA JACKSON (Gospel Singer): New Orleans is a type of city where people believe in living today and be happy. It's a very merry city. They believe in enjoying life to its fullness. New Orleans custom was when they finished working Friday, they'd start good-timing from Friday on till blue Monday. They wouldn't work on Monday. As poor as they are, they would have these good time days.

Though people didn't have nothing, they certainly did have a wonderful spirit under all of its segregation there, because the Negro stayed by himself. They created their own enjoyment, and yet they had their own tragedies. But somehow or other they went along.

We used to hear the Dixieland music, as they call it now. When I was a child they call that kind of music indecent music, music for common people in the saloons and the honkytonks. These type of people wasn't even on records. I heard them before Louis Armstrong left and come up to Chicago - Papa Sullistan(ph) and King Oliver and all those people I've seen.

Many of the songs that you hear today that come out of New Orleans, a lot of this musician played this type of music because New Orleans is noted for another thing, of having great big funerals. This proved the good times spirit of New Orleans people. Cry at the incoming of a child and rejoice at the outgoing.

In the early days when I was a girl, they would these big funerals drawn by two white horses. And the secret orders, like the (unintelligible) uniforms on, which made of great spectacular. And when the body would come of the church, why, the drums would hit up these sad songs and they would march behind the hearse.

After the burial of the deceased, then this band would strike up these religious songs. People from all over would meet at the cemetery and come back and dance in the street. The children and old folks own bicycles, own trucks or wagons or whatever it was, they would all get really into the jubilant feeling of this jazz music.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JACKSON: It was always happy. They know someday had died, but that music did something to him. And that type of music is really, it's in my soul. It's a part of New Orleans people. It's just liking eating red beans and rice.

(Soundbite of music)

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. She died in 1972. That appreciation came to us from the Hearing Voices Radio project. There's more to come on DAY TO DAY.

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