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Mahalia Jackson was referred to as the “Queen of Gospel,” and her voice inspired countless vocalists in her genre and beyond. Today is her birthday.

Mahala Jackson was born October 26, 1911 in New Orleans, La. She began singing at the age of four at Mount Mariah Baptist Church. As a teenager, she moved to Chicago to study nursing and attended the Greater Salem Baptist Church. Her singing voice led to an invite to the church choir and she then joined the Johnson Gospel Singers.

Now singing professionally, Jackson added an “i” to her name and began cutting records in the ’30’s with some mild success. It wasn’t until 1947 that Jackson hit big with the song “Move On Up A Little Higher,” which is said to be the highest-selling gospel song of all time. The song was also added to the Library of Congress ‘ National Recordings Registry in 2005.

In the ’50’s and beyond, Jackson became an international star and sang at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. She then moved to being a prominent supporter of the civil rights movement, performing at the 1963 March on Washington, and singing at Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.

After King’s assassination, Jackson largely fell from public life and battled a series of health complications. In 1972, she passed at the age of 60, shocking the music world. Jackson’s accolades are plenty, including a number of Grammy Awards, and a posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 

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