Funeralizing Mahalia

Funeralizing Mahalia


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Mahalia was an early supporter of Martin Luther King’s Southern

Christian Leadership Conference and served on the organization’s board of directors.



Mahalia Jackson CDs

Gospels, Spirituals & Hymns   /  The Best of Mahalia Jackson  /  Black, Brown and Beige   / The Best Loved Spirituals

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Funeralizing Mahalia

By Charles-Gene McDaniel

“I don’t like to see you all so dry,” the Rev. John Thurston admonished the thousands who attended the service for the queen of the gospel singers. “You might as well take off your gloves if you’re going to funeralize Mahalia Jackson.” The pastor, a friend of the singer, spoke at midpoint in a service which had been anything but staid. His admonition made it even livelier as more “amens” and “hallelujahs” rang out in the theater at McCormick Place on Chicago’s lakefront. “Mahalia would make the mayor shout,” Mr. Thurston said.

The mayor to whom he referred was Richard J. Daley of Chicago, who sat on the platform with other notable personalities who came to pay tribute to his friend Mahalia Jackson. he, in turn, was paid tribute with applause and “amens” from the congregation after warm words of praise from the Rev. Leon Jenkins, pastor of Mahalia’s church, the Greater Salem Missionary Baptist. Mayor Daley did not shout — at least not out loud — but Mahalia’s memory did, indeed, evoke shouts of joy and praise to God and Jesus Christ from just about everybody else.

One of these mornings I’m going to lay

Down my cross and get my crown,

As soon as my feet strike Zion, I’m going

To lay down my heavy burden . . .

These words are from “Move On Up a Little Higher,” the song so special to Mahalia, and the one she sang so movingly at the August 1963 civil rights demonstration in Washington. She laid down that burden Jan 27. when she died, at age 60, of heart failure following abdominal surgery. She had been in ill health for some time. In his invocation the Rev. C.L. Franklin of Detroit, father of Aretha Franklin, prayed: “We didn’t come here to cry today . . . we came here to rejoice, for we know now she laid her heavy burden down. . . . We acknowledge and hail that she has moved on up a little higher.”

Although mayor Daley kept his Irish catholic funeral reserve, his tribute to Mahalia emphasized the joy in her life. people love Mahalia Jackson, he said, “because every song she sang was an expression of life — with its joys and its sorrows. Every song she sang was a story of faith. She herself wanted only to make a joyful song unto the Lord. And to this she dedicated her life.” People everywhere responded to her love, the mayor continued, “and this was her reward — having made life more beautiful and joyous for those of us here on earth.”


It was Mayor Daley who asked that the funeral be moved from Mahalia’s home church, which seats 800 to the 5,000-seat theater. Even that hall was not large enough. All seats were filled an hour before the service started on a cold, overcast Feb. 2. Many stood in the side aisles while hundreds more remained in the lobby to listen to the two-hour service over a public address system. many at the service had not known her, had never seen her in person, but they — like the presidents, queens and kings and the one pope before whom she appeared — loved and admired this New Orleans — born onetime laundress and scrubwoman whose unmatched voice brought her international fame.

Thousands more had filed past the coffin during the days before the funeral as the body lay in state in the church on Chicago’s south side. At times the line stretched outside the building, and many waited in the cold for hours in order to pay her tribute. Another service in New Orleans on Feb. 4 drew an additional 5,000. the burial was in Metairie, just outside the city.

At the Chicago funeral the body lay in a polished wooden coffin lined with pale blue, surrounded with bouquets of red roses and topped with a garland of white orchids. the Greater Salem choir, with which Mahalia got her start as a singer, set the tone for the service with its opening selection, a lively “leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” Some of the singers wept during the service, as did Mr. Jenkins and others, but joy invariably transcended the grief.

Mahalia had devoted herself to sacred gospel songs, abjuring the blues and never going into nightclubs where they were sung. But she l loved the singers of these secular songs — just as she loved everybody — and was loved by them. Sammy Davis, Jr., spoke of her as “more than just a great artist — she was “something special.” And Ella Fitzgerald, in tears, described her as “one of our greatest ambassadors of love . . . this wonderful woman who only comes once in a lifetime.”

Davis read a message given him by pres. Richard Nixon, who spoke of her as an “artist without peer” and as a “majestic ambassador of good will.” The president also said, “Millions of ears will miss the sound of that great, rich voice making a joyful noise unto the Lord.”

Robert Anderson sang Mahalia’s song, “Move On Up a little Higher,” and her accompanists, organist Willie Webb and pianist Mildred Falls, played. Dolores Campbell sang “He’s Gonna Call me Home.” And the audience waved and swayed as Memphis singer Bradley sang a deeply moving “I’ll Fly Away.” Afterward he asked everyone to turn to the person next to him, shake hands and say, “I love you.” Everyone did.


Mahalia was an early supporter of Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and served on the organization’s board of directors. At the funeral Dr. King’s widow, Coretta, spoke of “my dear friend, your friend, a friend to mankind, Mahalia Jackson, black, proud, beautiful, extraordinarily gifted as a singer and a performer, singing the songs of her people in her own unique way. She sang a universal language, for she expressed in her songs, which were deeply rooted in the black experience, the joys, the sorrows, the sufferings, the longings and aspirations — yes, the desire for freedom for her people.”

In his eulogy Joseph H. Jackson, president of the National Baptist Convention, remarked that Mahalia had “scrubbed floors, but she scrubbed them well.” Even after she became famous, he remembered, “she would come to revival meetings and rejoice and sing and shout with everybody.” Wherever she appeared, Dr. Jackson said, “when she finished singing, there was no hatred. We felt like kinfolks under the banner of truth.”

Aretha Franklin ended the service by singing for Mahalia one of the songs she loved so well, “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on.”

Source: The Christian Century (1 March 1972)

posted 2 November 2007

Trouble of the World / Precious Lord / Just a Closer Walk with Thee

How I Got Over / Lord Don’t Move the Mountain / Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho

Somebody Touched Me / How Great Thou Art

How I Got Over (live)

               By Mahalia Jackson


How I got over
How did I make it over
You know my soul look back and wonder
How did I make it over

How I made it over
Going on over all these years
You know my soul look back and wonder
How did I make it over

Tell me how we got over Lord
Had a mighty hard time coming on over
You know my soul look back and wonder
How did we make it over

Tell me how we got over, Lord
I’ve been falling and rising all these years
But you know my soul look back and wonder
How did I make it over

But soon as I can see Jesus
The man that died for me
Man that bled and suffered
and he hung on Calvary

And I want to thank him for how he brought me
And I want to thank


for how he taught me
Oh thank my


how he kept me
I’m gonna thank him ’cause he never left me

Then I’m gonna thank


for ‘ole time religion
and I’m gonna thank


for giving me vision
One day I’m gonna join the heavenly choir
I’m gonna sing and never get tired

And then I’m gonna sing somewhere ’round


And I’m gonna shout all my troubles over
You know I’ve gotta thank


and thank him for being
so good to me. Lord yeah

How I made it over ‘LORD’ I had to cry in the midnight hour
coming on over, but you know my soul look back and wonder
How did I make it over

Tell me how I made it over Lord God Lord
Falling and rising all these years
you know my soul look back and wonder
How did I make it over

I’m gonna wear a diamond garment
In that new Jerusalem, I’m gonna walk the streets of gold
It’s in the homeland of the soul
I’m gonna view the host in white
They’ve been traveling day and night
Coming up from every nation
They’re on their way to the great Cognation
Coming from the north, south, east, and west
They on their way to a land of rest
and their gonna join the heavenly choir
You know we’re gonna sing and never get tired
and then we’re gonna sing somewhere ’round


and then we’re gonna shout all our troubles over
You know we gotta thank


and thank him for being
so good to me

You know I come to thank


this evening, I come to
thank him, this evening, You know all night long


kept his angels watching over me
and early this morning, early this morning


told his angel


said, “touch her in my name”
God said, “touch her in my name”
I ‘rose this morning, I ‘rose this morning
I ‘rose this morning, I feel like shouting
I feel like shouting, I feel like shouting
I feel like shouting, I feel like shouting
I feel like shouting, I feel like shouting
I just gotta thank


, I just gotta thank God
I just gotta thank


, I just gotta thank him


for being so good, God’s been good to me

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Mahalia Jackson (October 26, 1911 – January 27, 1972) was an American gospel singer. Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as “The Queen of Gospel.” Jackson became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. She was described by entertainer Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen “golds”—million-sellers.

Born as Mahala Jackson and nicknamed “Halie,” Jackson grew up in the Black Pearl section of the Carrollton neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans, Louisiana. The three-room dwelling on Pitt Street housed thirteen people and a dog. . . . Mahalia’s father, John A. Jackson, Sr. was a stevedore (dockworker) and a barber who later became a Baptist minister. He fathered four other children besides Mahalia—Wilmon (older) and then Yvonne, Pearl and Johnny, Jr. (by his marriage shortly after Halie’s birth). Her father’s sister, Jeanette Jackson-Burnett, and husband, Josie, were vaudeville entertainers.

When she was born Halie suffered from genu varum, or “bowed legs”. The doctors wanted to perform surgery by breaking her legs, but one of the resident aunts opposed it. Halie’s mother would rub her legs down with greasy dishwater. The condition never stopped young Halie from performing her dance steps for the white woman for whom her mother and Aunt Bell cleaned house.

Mahalia was five when her mother Charity died, leaving her family to decide who would raise Halie and her brother. Aunt Duke assumed this responsibility, and the children were forced to work from sunup to sundown. . . .Mahalia Jackson began her singing career at the local Mount Mariah Baptist Church. She was baptized in Mississippi by Mt. Mariah’s pastor, the Rev. E. D. Lawrence, then went back to the church to “receive the right hand of fellowship.”—Wikipedia

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Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.”

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update 24 May 2012




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Related files: Official History of Jerusalem  Mahalia Jackson   C L Franklin Review  The Black Religious Crisis


Howard Thurman  C L Franklin Review 

Doubting Thomas  Sermonic Closings  Funeralizing Mahalia  Du Bois Negro Church  Three Views on Black Church   The Spirituals and the Blues  

I Have a Dream  The Black Religious Crisis


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