Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord!, which was written for a middle-school audience, is part of a series of brief biographies written about women in the United States. The series editor, Milton Meltzer, has often written about social issues, especially those concerning injustice and oppression.
Adolescents need heroes—people worth looking up to and people who stand behind their beliefs, regardless of the consequences. This Mahalia Jackson did with a passion. Until the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, a disproportionate number of biographies for young readers depicted the life stories of military and political heroes, primarily males of European descent. As the market for diversified biographies increased, hurried productions idealizing individuals became common. Without dwelling on criticisms leveled against Mahalia Jackson during her life time, Jesse Jackson alludes to her two divorces and accusations of playing favorites. Thus, he avoids deifying Jackson and gives the book credibility.
As a model for young readers, Jackson’s deep faith, steadfast courage, and boundless energy shine through her days—whether days of destitution or of triumph. Her pride in her heritage and her strength of conviction about singing gospel music in her own way are resolute. The riveting strength that music, especially gospel music, provided to the Civil Rights movement is only briefly mentioned or entirely overlooked in most history books. It is doubtful, however, that the courage and determination of a people would have been sustained through the darkest hours without the magnificent contribution of stout-hearted souls such as Jackson. Her biographer gives the young reader a fine introduction to this stellar woman and those critical days in American history.