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October 26

Mahalia Jackson

Jackson’s voice was a force in the fight for civil rights; she sang at the 1963 March on Washington, and at her close friend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral five years later.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

1911: An Amazing Grace
Mahalia Jackson is born in New Orleans, Louisiana
Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson had a powerful contralto voice even as a little girl. She would sing around the house, sing at the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church in her hometown, and sing in various choirs or as a soloist. She landed a series of recording deals, starting in 1937 with Decca Records, eventually moving to Columbia Records, where she really hit her stride as a spiritual singer with broad commercial appeal.

Jackson’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show brought gospel to a whole new set of listeners, as did her performance at the inauguration of President Kennedy in 1960. This granddaughter of slaves was the first gospel singer to sing at Carnegie Hall, and the first gospel singer to be featured at the Newport Jazz Festival.
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