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 "gold's"—million-sellers.
"I sing God's music because it makes me feel free", Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, "It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues." Jackson began her singing career at the local Mount Mariah Baptist Church. She was baptized in the Mississippi River by the Rev. E.D. Lawrence, then went back to the church to "receive the right hand of fellowship". In 1927, at the age of 16, Jackson moved from the south to Chicago, Illinois, in the midst of the Great Migration. After her first Sunday church service, where she had given an impromptu performance of her favorite song, "Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet, Gabriel", she was invited to join the Greater Salem Baptist Church Choir. She began touring the city's churches and surrounding areas with the Johnson Gospel Singers, one of the earliest professional gospel groups. In 1929, Jackson met the composer Thomas A. Dorsey, known as the Father of Gospel Music. He gave her musical advice, and in the mid-1930s they began a 14-year association of touring, with Jackson singing Dorsey's songs in church programs and at conventions. His "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" became her signature song.In 1950, Jackson became the 1st gospel singer to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall when Joe Bostic produced the Negro Gospel and Religious Music Festival.She started touring Europe in 1952 and was hailed by critics as the "world's greatest gospel singer". Jackson played an important role during the civil rights movement. In August 1956, she met Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr. at the National Baptist Convention.A few months later, both King and Abernathy contacted her about coming to Montgomery, Alabama, to sing at a rally to raise money for the bus boycott. Despite death threats, Mahalia Jackson agreed to sing in Montgomery. Her concert was on December 6, 1956. By then, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Browder v. Gayle that bus segregation was unconstitutional. When she returned to the Abernathy's home, it had been bombed. The boycott finally ended on December 21, 1956, when federal injunctions were served, forcing Montgomery to comply with the court ruling.