Mahalia Jackson was born on October 26, 1911 and grew up in the Black Pearl district of uptown New Orleans, and was a gospel singer often referred to as “The Queen of Gospel.” Jackson went on to become one of the most influential gospel singers in the world, with singer Harry Belafonte calling her “the single most powerful black woman in the United States.” Jackson recorded 30 albums throughout her career for Columbia Records and was internationally known for her powerful voice. Jackson began her singing career at the local Mount Mariah Baptist Church, where she sang as part of the choir.
In 1927, at the age of sixteen, Jackson moved to Chicago, Illinois, and began touring the city's churches as part of the Johnson Gospel Singers, during these tours, Jackson met Thomas A. Dorsey, known as the Father of Gospel Music and they began a fourteen-year professional singing/writing partnership. 1947 saw Jackson sign with the Apollo label, and record the William Herbert Brewster song “Move On Up a Little Higher,” which earned Jackson a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998. The success of this song Catapulted Jackson to instant fame, as a result she began touring the U.S and Europe. 1950 marked Jackson's performance at New York's Carnegie Hall, as the first gospel singer to ever perform there. After her European tour wrapped up, Jackson embarked on a radio series on CBS and signed to Columbia Records in 1954. Jackson's debut for the label, “The World's Greatest Gospel Singer” arrived that same year, followed by a Christmas album, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” in 1956.
Jackson's mainstream success landed her appearances in a number of feature films at the time: “St. Louis Blues” in 1958 singing “Trouble of the World,” and “Imitation of Life” in 1959. 1961 saw Jackson sing at President John F. Kennedy's inaugural ball. A second Christmas album followed, “Silent Night (Songs for Christmas)” in 1962. 1963 saw Jackson sing at the march on Washington, and later at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. funeral, where she sang “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral after he was assassinated in 1968. Jackson's last album, “What The World Needs Now” appeared in 1969, with her career coming to an end at a concert in Germany in 1971. Jackson spent the latter part of her life working as an activist and helping those in need; she established the Jackson Scholarship Foundation for people who wanted to attend college but were not in a financial position to do so. In addition to her humanitarian efforts, Jackson opened a beauty parlor and a florist shop. Jackson died in Chicago on January 27, 1972 of heart failure and diabetes complications. Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald paid their respects at Jackson's funeral, with Aretha Franklin closing the ceremony with a moving rendition of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”.