1911-1972. Born in New Orleans
, moved to Chicago
at the age of 16. Before Aretha
, there was Mahalia, and there's a little bit of Mahalia in any gospel-inflected singing
voice. The good ones, anyway. Though she loved jazz
and the blues
especially), she took a stand early on to sing nothing but gospel music
She first sang in Chicago-area Baptist churches, but her talents were such that she gained fame over a wider and wider radius - Illinois, the Midwest, then nationally. She would eventually become as internationally famous as the
Duke Ellingtons and Louis Armstrongs whose musics she rejected (but she did sing the gospel-friendly "Come Sunday" on a recording of Ellington's Black, Brown, and Beige), and would become an informal ambassador for American music, as
Duke, Louis, and Dizzy did.
Mahalia became, late in life, an educator; and an entrepreneur, opening a chain of soul food restaurants (not a rousing success, IIRC). She also became an activist, a lesser icon of the civil rights movement, and sang
"Precious Lord" at Martin Luther King's funeral.
Studs Terkel tells an anecdote about being her announcer/sidekick in Chicago when Mahalia had her own television show on CBS (for whom she also recorded in those years); in the days of the Red Scare's blacklisting of "communists" in the media, Studs was asked to sign a loyalty oath. He wouldn't do it; he took his case to "the boss" - Mahalia, who would keep the suits at bay, defending her friend Studs to the end of the show's run.