From the Archives: Mahalia Jackson, Renowed Gospel Singer, Dies at 60


Mahalia Jackson, whose soulful renditions of gospel music thrilled fans the world over, including Presidents and European royalty, died Thursday at Little Company of Mary Hospital in a south Chicago suburb. She was 60.

A hospital spokesman said heart disease was the immediate cause of her death.

Miss Jackson, who had been in declining health for months, entered the hospital Jan. 19 suffering from an intestinal condition. She had been hospitalized intermittently since 1964 for heart trouble, and returned to the United States from an appearance in Germany last October suffering from a heart ailment.


She had made fewer public appearances the last five years, primarily because of declining health.

Miss Jackson, who was divorced twice and had no children, first won fame as a gospel singer in the choir at Greater Salem Baptist Church on Chicago’s south side during the 1940s.

Record Sold More Than Million

Among her earliest hit recordings were “I Can Put My Trust in Jesus,” “In the Upper Room,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and “Move On Up A Little Higher.” Her rendition of “Even Me Lord” in 1947 sold more than a million records.

She was born Oct. 25, 1911, in New Orleans, the daughter of a stevedore who doubled as a Baptist preacher. Her mother died when she was 6. As a young girl, Miss Jackson worked as a nursemaid, scrubbed floors and packed dates in a factory—her first job in Chicago, where she lived since she was 16.

The earliest important musical influence in her life was blues singer Bessie Smith, whose recording of “Careless Love” was a favorite of Miss Jackson’s and from which she learned much about the phrasing of black folk music.


Despite Bessie Smith’s influence, Miss Jackson never sang blues or jazz, only gospel. She once said to Duke Ellington, who tried unsuccessfully to get her to record jazz with his band, “Duke, my music is the music of the Lord.”

Her career was marked by appearances before European royalty. She toured the Continent extensively and made five concert appearances at Carnegie Hall in New York.

In 1960 Miss Jackson sang the National Anthem at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy.

Although she was already widely renowned as a gospel singer, Miss Jackson’s fame increased during the civil rights movement. She was one of a number of black and white celebrities who attached themselves to the movement, developing close personal relationships with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, the late Whitney Young Jr. and other nationally prominent civil rights figures.

Close the Dr. King

Miss Jackson and Harry Belafonte were especially close to Dr. King. During the historic march on Washington in August, 1963, after Dr. King’s memorable “I Have a Dream” speech, Miss Jackson climaxed the occasion with an eloquent rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”

Miss Jackson sang Dr. King’s favorite hymn, “Precious Lord,” at funeral services for the assassinated civil right leader in 1968.

Miss Jackson is not known to have any immediate survivors. She and her last husband, Sigmund Minters Galloway, were divorced in 1969.


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