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The Essential Mahalia Jackson

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Album Review

Mahalia Jackson rewrote the rules for singing gospel in the late '40s by bringing blues phrasing and other secular elements into sacred song, and with her powerful alto, she sang with an immediacy and conviction that are still startling when they break out of the speakers some 30 years after her death. This two-disc set collects tracks from Jackson's long stay at Columbia Records, as well as a few tracks from her previous label, Apollo Records, where she recorded from 1947 until signing with Columbia in 1954. What makes this set feel like more than a greatest-hits collection is the inspired sequencing, which doesn't move chronologically but instead is paced like a concert, helped by the placement of key live tracks, including several from her historic appearance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Highlights are almost too many to mention, but her elegant version of "Come Sunday" with Duke Ellington & His Orchestra is majestic in scope, and her interpretations of a pair of Thomas A. Dorsey compositions, "It Didn't Cost Very Much" and "I'm Going to Live the Life I Sing About in My Song" are definitive. The funky "Let the Church Roll On," featuring some wonderful stop-start stuttering piano work from Mildred Falls, rocks the house, as does the rousing, jazzy version of "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" that is included here. A beautiful and heartbreaking reading of "I've Been Buked" from Columbia's tape archives is another obvious high point. No one could worry over a note like Mahalia Jackson. The Essential Mahalia Jackson makes a marvelous introduction to the Colombia Records era of this powerful and soulful singer, and coupled with the earlier three-disc Apollo Sessions, paints a complete picture of an American treasure.

Customer Reviews

Mahalia Jackson was born to sing

My mother, born and bred in the Deep South, brought me up listening to this exceptionally gifted singer, the incomparable Mahalia Jackson. I learned to appreciate the stirring and soulful musicality of this beautiful American gospel singer's voice and stylings, which transcend categorization and that never fail to uplift. The legend is that Mahalia Jackson was aggressively pursued by big-record labels, even back in the 50s and 60s, but declined, because they wanted her to sing blues or jazz or pop. She stayed true to her deep spiritual values and her voice and grace will live forever. If you'd like to see images of Mahalia Jackson, look her up on YouTube, where she is recorded for posterity. Thank you, Mahalia, for your gifts and for gracing us all with your music.

Some Comments on the Essential Mahalia Jackson

This album is beautiful, and every song preserves the classic sound of pop while also pushing in some old-time religion tunes. I love it very much, especially when I need a little pick-me-up. It's inspiring, and it fills me with hope and faith when I feel slightly worse than usual.

Trouble of the World

This song along with her songs of praise and worship, uplifts my spirit and gives me a feeling of God's awsome presence


Born: October 16, 1911 in New Orleans, LA

Genre: Christian & Gospel

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

General critical consensus holds Mahalia Jackson as the greatest gospel singer ever to live; a major crossover success whose popularity extended across racial divides, she was gospel's first superstar, and even decades after her death remains, for many listeners, a defining symbol of the music's transcendent power. With her singularly expressive contralto, Jackson continues to inspire the generations of vocalists who follow in her wake; among the first spiritual performers to introduce elements of...
Full Bio
The Essential Mahalia Jackson, Mahalia Jackson
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