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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mahalia Jackson charted with “Move on Up a Little Higher”: January 24, 1948








The Reverend William Herbert Brewster composed “Move on Up” almost as a sermon in which he built up the imagery of a “Christian climbing the ladder to heaven.” WK It was originally intended for one of his religious pageants or passion plays. WK

However, the song also had a strong undercurrent about civil rights for “black Americans’ gradual ascent to economic and social power.” TM The reverend acknowledged that “There were things that were almost dangerous to say, but you could sing it.” TM

When it came to singing it, the task was put to Mahalia Jackson, “The Queen of Gospel.” She was born in New Orleans and, at age 16, moved to Chicago where she joined a Baptist church choir. In 1929, she met Thomas A. Dorsey, a composer often heralded as “The Father of Gospel Music.” Over the next decade and a half, she toured singing his songs.

While she gained a name for herself, it was after signing to Apollo in 1947 that she gained her greatest fame. In her hands, “Move on Up” transcended the boundaries of gospel music and thrust itself upon the secular world as well. It found an audience with whites and blacks alike, reportedly becoming the best-selling gospel song to date. NRR Her singing was accompanied only by the standard church instruments of piano and organ, but her “delivery has the rhythm of preaching and the force of a lightning storm.” TM She blended “the vocal styles of blues singers, such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, with the heartfelt emotion and commitment common to traditional gospel singing.” NRR




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