The author of Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord!, Jesse Jackson (no relation to either Mahalia Jackson or the Reverend Jesse Jackson), has an obvious regard for the singer and her contribution to the Civil Rights movement. In his acknowledgments, Jackson refers to his own conversations with the singer, as well as his contacts with those who knew her in the earliest days of her career. Because the writer had access to these sources and to taped interviews of countless radio and television shows, it is regrettable that more space was not given to the artist’s own words. Mahalia Jackson’s warmth, humor, and obvious rapport with an audience were a great part of her charisma. As one English reviewer wrote, “Thousands were there, but Mahalia sang only to me.” At Carnegie Hall, when the audience became carried away with the emotion of the music, Jackson captured their hearts and cooperation by saying, “Now we do best remember we’re in Carnegie Hall, and if we cut up too much, they might put us out.”
The author admired Jackson’s integrity in resisting pressure to compromise her musical style by incorporating a European influence. In the early days, during her one and only music lesson, the teacher ridiculed her for “hollering” and “mispronouncing” words. The author puts thoughts into Jackson’s head as he conjectures, “She was black. Why should she sing songs the way white folks liked? She couldn’t stand the professor’s formal style.” She never did take another music lesson and instead sang from her heart and memory in her own way. She did not read musical notation and thought “boxing” music into little black marks on a page would take the life out of it.
The author is impressed too by Jackson’s constancy in staying with gospel music. Although she was influenced by both jazz and blues music from her early childhood in New Orleans, she never sang anything but gospel, which she considered music of hope instead of despair. In keeping with an early vow to God, she never sang in a theater or a place where whiskey was sold, even though this refusal sometimes meant sacrificing opportunities for advancing her career.