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Poor Sound Quality Undercuts A Brilliant Performer
on 14 June 2004
Born to a poor family in 1911 in New Orleans, Mahalia Jackson grew up singing in her father's church--and soaking up the blues and jazz for which that city is so famous. By the late 1920s she was in Chicago, where her distinctly jazz and blues-inflected singing style nearly got her thrown out of the Greater Salem Baptist Church. But Mahalia persevered, and in the early 1950s a series of radio and television broadcasts launched her first to national and then international acclaim. Some thirty years after her death in 1972, she is still considered the single greatest gospel singer America has ever produced.
I discovered Jackson in a serious way a year or so ago, and since then I have gone out of my way to purchase every one of her recordings that comes my way: if ever God gave breath to a gospel singer, it was to this woman, and her voice grabs you and rings you like a great bell. And after reading several commentaries on the brilliance of her 1958 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, I was particularly eager to have this one.
Sad to say, the sound quality of this recording is very, very bad. You can actually hear the roars of the audience with greater clarity than you can hear Jackson--and given the power of her voice that is an astonishing thing. At times it sounds as if Jackson and the microphone are at opposite ends of the stage; at other times it sounds for all the world as if Jackson is singing inside a barrel. And more than anything, the recording leaves me with a tremendous frustration--for in its occasional moments of clarity it is very obvious that Jackson was giving a truly brilliant performance.
For all the frustration involved, I do not regret this purchase. If nothing else, it gives one a very clear idea of how Jackson interacted with her audience. But even so, this not a recording I would recommend to someone just beginning to explore the work of this unique and extraordinary artist. Let it be among the last purchases of her work you make.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer