"Mahalia has the awe-inspiring gift of communicating the original and true meaning of words. When she sings the word 'soul' we know what it is. When she sings 'O Lord my God,' sending out her leonine contralto like a gigantic whip, or 'You'll never walk alone,' placing each syllable separately like a pillar of steel, we are with her in Zion. When she sings 'I Found the Answer' ('Now the sun is shining for me each day'), we believe her." - Francis Newton, The New Statesman, London 1961
As we approach the celebration of what would have been Mahalia Jackson's 90th birthday on October 26th, Legacy's critically-acclaimed 'Gospel Spirit Series' throws the spotlight on the Queen Of Gospel at her brightest incandescence. Scheduled for release on June 19th are "Mahalia Jackson Recorded In Europe During Her Latest Concert Tour" (from 1961), "Mahalia Jackson In Concert Easter Sunday, 1967", (both of which feature previously unreleased bonus tracks and new liner notes), as well as "Sunday Morning Prayer Meeting With Mahalia", a fiery new compilation of 14 live and studio recordings spanning 1955 to 1965, half of which are previously unissued.
April marked the 40th anniversary of Mahalia Jackson's history-making first 2-month concert tour of Europe, in which she visited England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Italy, as well as making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Israel. The aptly-titled "Mahalia Jackson Recorded In Europe During Her Last Concert Tour" found her accompanied by long-time collaborator Mildred Falls at the piano, "her left hand as solid as the rock of ages," writes j. poet elsewhere, "with well-placed flourishes that flicker like the flaming breath of the Holy Ghost."
The original European Concert album comprised 9 tracks recorded in Sweden on April 18, 1961, produced by Irving Townsend and George Avakian, and released on Columbia LP later that year. The program ranged from "Elijah Rock" to such durable old traditional numbers as "There Is a Balm In Gilead" and "Down By the Riverside"; from familiar standards introduced by Dorothy Love Coates ("He's Right On Time"), Clara Ward ("How I Got Over"), Mahalia's mentor Thomas A. Dorsey ("It Don't Cost Very Much"), and Mahalia herself ("Tell the World About This"), to the inspirational Rodgers & Hammerstein anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone." The new Gospel Spirit Series edition digs into the Columbia archives for two previously unreleased bonus tracks recorded in France one week later, the Sallie Martin staple "Didn't It Rain" and a showstopping "When the Saints Go Marching In."
Nearly six years later, on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967, Mahalia's historic premiere at the Philharmonic Hall of Lincoln Center in New York was again recorded by Townsend for Columbia. The concert not only marked her debut at the prestigious venue, but also marked her first major concert in three years, since she suffered the severe heart problems that sidelined her and eventually took her life in 1972 at age 60. The concert featured a tasteful backing group helmed by piano and organ (Eddie Robinson and Charles Clency, respectively), veteran Count Basie Orchestra drummer Jo Jones, and an unknown guitarist.
Released as an 11-song LP later that year, "Mahalia Jackson In Concert Easter Sunday, 1967" was a stirring mix of traditional warhorses ("Thy Will Be Done," "Calvary," "There Is a Balm In Gilead," "Were You There?") and works associated with the post-war years: "In My Home Over There," "He Will Remember Me," "Holding My Savior's Hand," and "An Evening Prayer."
"To introduce the last third of the concert," writes Horace Clarence Boyer, author of The Golden Age of Gospel, in his newly-commissioned liner notes for this edition, "Jackson pulled out a certified 'shout' song, "Come On Children, Let's Sing" and a Sunday morning Sanctified Church would not have been able to match [her] fervor, spirit and joy." This time, digging into the archives yielded four previously unreleased bonus tracks, "If I Can Help Somebody," "Lord, Don't Let Me Fall," and two of the aforementioned Jackson perennials, "It Don't Cost Very Much" and "Elijah Rock."
The central decade (1955 to 1965) of Mahalia's near 20-year tenure at Columbia Records (from the early '50s though her death) is sampled on "Sunday Morning Prayer Meeting With Mahalia". This brand new compilation, as its title implies, "lives up to its name with the kind of bare bones testifying one might have heard in any black Baptist church on Sunday morning," writes j. poet in the album's newly-commissioned liner notes. The earliest track on the album is a previously unissued monaural version of "I'm Grateful" from a November 3, 1955 session produced by Avakian and featuring Ms. Jackson and Ms Falls backed by Basie veteran Walter Page on bass and drummer Gordon Powell.
From the March 1956 sessions with the Falls-Jones Ensemble instrumental backup group that produced the bulk of Mahalia's classic monaural LP Bless This House (CL 8761) come "Down By the Riverside," "Standing Here Wondering Which Way To Go," "God Knows the Reason Why," and her previously unissued cover of the Dixie Hummingbirds' timeless "Trouble In My Way." Mahalia's Hollywood recording session of February 1961 (with a full backing combo) is the source of the previously unissued gem, "Nobody But You Lord."
The compilation takes advantage of the archive's 1961 European tour tapes for three more previously unreleased live tracks from France, the opening and closing "Elijah Rock" and "I Found the Answer" (respectively) and "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho." Mahalia's Columbia albums of the 1960s provide "Lord, Don't Let Me Fall" and "That's All Right" (from 1962's Make a Joyful Noise Unto The Lord, CS 8736), "Just Over the Hill" (1963's Greatest Hits, CS 8804), and "How I Got Over" (1968's Sings The Best-Loved Songs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., CS 9686). Chronologically, the 'youngest' track on this compilation is the previously unreleased version of "I Don't Know About Tomorrow," recorded in Chicago in 1965.
Mahalia Jackson's Columbia recordings, originally produced in the 1950s and '60s by Irving Townsend and George Avakian, were produced for reissue by Grammy-nominated producer Nedra Olds-Neal, and were remastered by Grammy-winner Mark Wilder at Sony Music Studios in New York. A&R for Columbia/Legacy's Gospel Spirit Series is supervised by Steve Berkowitz.
For more on Mahalia, see: