Mahalia Jackson and the black gospel field

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New York, NY : Oxford University Press,, United States, p.xv, 472 pages : (2019)

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African American gospel singers, African Americans, Biography., Gospel music, Gospel singers, History and criticism., Music, United States


Includes bibliographical references and index.Nearly a half century after her death in 1972, Mahalia Jackson remains the most esteemed figure in black gospel music history. Born in 1911 and raised in the backstreets of New Orleans, Jackson joined the Great Migration to Chicago during the Great Depression, where she became a highly regarded church singer. By the mid-1950s, she was a coveted recording artist for Apollo and Columbia Records, lauded as the "World's Greatest Gospel Singer." The "Louisiana Cinderella" narrative of Jackson's career carried important meaning for African Americans, yet it remains a story only half-told. Gospel's first multimediated artist, she had a nationally broadcast radio program and a Chicago-based television show. Her early recordings introduced straight-out-of-the-church black gospel to American and European audiences, while also tapping the vogue for religious pop during the early Cold War. In some ways, Jackson's successes made her an exceptional case, though she is perhaps best understood as part of broader developments in the black gospel field. Built upon foundations laid by pioneering Chicago organizers in the 1930s, black gospel singing, with Jackson as its most visible representative, began to circulate in novel ways as a form of popular culture in the 12940s and 1950s. Its practitioners accrued prestige not only through devout integrity, but also from their charismatic artistry, public recognition, and pop-culture cachet. These years also saw shifting strategies in the black freedom struggle that gave new cultural-political significance to African American vernacular culture. The first book on Jackson in twenty-five years, Mahalia Jackson and the Black Gospel Field draws on a trove of previously unexamined archival sources. Author Mark Burford illuminates Jackson's childhood in New Orleans, and her negotiation of parallel careers as both a singing Baptist evangelist and a mass media entertainer. The book documents the unfolding material and symbolic influence of Jackson and black gospel music in postwar American society. -- From dust jacket.