Mahalia Jackson was the rare devotional-music performer who could headline concerts in large, nonchurch venues.
More about Mahalia
Mahalia was born in 1911 in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she listened to both Bessie Smith and Mamie Smith. She migrated north to Chicago in 1927. There, she met Thomas Dorsey, and the two performed as a duo at church meetings. In 1937, she made her first commercial recordings for Coral Records. In 1954, legendary talent scout John Hammond signed her to Columbia Records. From that point on, she became the most famous gospel singer in the world. She sang for Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, performing at the latter's inauguration. A favorite of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jackson sang at his request immediately before his "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington in August 1963.