Jesse Jackson Loraine Alterman - Essay

Loraine Alterman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Jesse Jackson's biography, The Life of Mahalia Jackson, Queen of the Gospel Singers] details the course of her life from her early years in New Orleans, where she first impressed people with her singing at age 5, through her triumphs all over the world and her brave participation in the civil rights movement….

Jesse Jackson makes it clear that she lived and breathed to spread the word of peace and love through gospel music.

Jesse Jackson tells the story well—explaining vividly why Miss Jackson stuck with gospel rather than singing the blues and how she was willing to do the toughest kind of housework for white people so that she could sing. There are times when the author tries to convey in the narrative what Miss Jackson was thinking. I'm a little suspicious of this, and it makes no sense in view of the disclaimer which appears in the acknowledgments: "The author regrets not having space for more of the wonderful things Mahalia said about her life, her music, the black experience, religion, and God." I would have preferred more of Mahalia Jackson, less of Jesse Jackson….

But on the whole it will induce young readers to listen to some of Mahalia Jackson's recordings and to discover for themselves what made her gift so special.

Loraine Alterman, "Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 16, 1974, p. 8.