Mahalia Jackson rose from Deep South poverty to world renown as a passionate gospel singer. Closely associated with the black civil rights movement, Miss Jackson was chosen to sing at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington rally at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. I been 'buked and I been scorned/ I'm gonna tell my Lord/ When I get home/ Just how long you've been treating me wrong, she sang in a full, rich contralto to the throng of 200,000 people as a preface to Dr. King's I've got a dream speech. That was truly a historic occasion.
The song, which Dr. King had requested, came as much from Miss Jackson's heart as from her vocal cords. The granddaughter of a slave, she had struggled for years for fulfillment and for unprejudiced recognition of her talent. Although Miss Jackson's medium was the sacred song drawn from the Bible or inspired by it, the words-and the soul style in which they were delivered-became metaphors of black protest. Among her own people her favorites were Move On Up a Little Higher, Just Over the Hill and How I Got Over.
Singing these and other songs to black audiences, Miss Jackson was a woman on fire, whose combs flew out of her hair as she performed. She moved her listeners to dancing, to shouting, to ecstasy.
Many of Miss Jackson's songs were evocations of religious faith and were intended, in keeping with her own profound belief in God, to be devotional. Her rhythms might be syncopated, but her soaring voice aimed to obey the psalmist's injunction to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.