In the 1960s Mahalia Jackson threw her support to the great civil rights movements, and she was present at the march on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King. King had written a speech, which his supporters found dry--and suddenly Jackson called out: "tell them about the dream!" And King, inspired, cast down his notes and spoke from the heart in a speech that has become justly famous throughout the world.
And this was Mahalia Jackson's gift: the gift of inspiration. Born in poverty in 1911 New Orleans, she refused to perform any song that she felt lacked a spiritual basis--and so she struggled for decades, known only to the black churches of Chicago where she sang. In the early 1950s, however, a series of radio and television broadcasts launched her to first local and then national and international fame. She would spend the next two decades recording and touring throughout America and Europe--and inspiring.
Jackson was a singer who, in a technical sense, seemed to do almost everything wrong. She dropped consonants, slurred vowels, she would even breathe in the dead center of a word, and all of that is apparent in the recordings contained in THE ESSENTIAL MAHALIA JACKSON. But simply put, the woman could do no wrong when she stood before a microphone: she had her own technique, and she sang it as she felt it. There is not a soul-tinged singer in the world today who, knowingly or not, has not been inspired by her influence.
But more significantly, Jackson worked to inspire her "ordinary" listeners. She seemed to have absolute faith; certainly she had absolute conviction. And the power of her belief rings through her music like a great bell. She believes: you must believe with her. And this aptly titled THE ESSENTIAL MAHALIA JACKSON collects many of her best-known recordings from the up-tempo and opening "Walking in Jerusalem" to the spine chilling and closing "Silent Night." Most of the tracks are monoaural and many of them show the technological limitations of their era, but it matters not: Mahalia easily transcends every issue.
Fine as this collection is, there are a few titles I would like to see included on any CD that claims to be "The Essentials:" the stunning "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" and the gloriously up-tempo "God Put A Rainbow in the Sky" to name but two. But frankly, almost anything Mahalia Jackson recorded could be considered an essential, so powerful is her work, and this collection is a particularly fine sampling. Truly a voice for the ages, and still the single greatest gospel singer of the 20th Century and likely the greatest gospel singer of any age. Strongly recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer