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"Ain’t Gonna Study War No More"

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If I had a “Greatest American Birthdays” series, I’d certainly have to include Mahalia Jackson, who must be counted as one of the most remarkable performers of the 20th century. She was probably best remembered for her renditions of “We Shall Overcome,” but her performance of “I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned” — which she sang just prior to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech — was at least as powerful and has been unjustly left behind by popular memory of the civil rights era.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any film of that performance online, but I did manage to turn up this fantastic clip from a 1969 concert in Sweden. Most of that concert appears to be on YouTube, so if you’re in the mood to be completely blown away, do yourself a favor and watch.

If she hadn’t died too young in 1972, she’d have turned 96 today (which still would have been too soon to lose a voice like hers).

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  • What’s interesting to me is that she is seen as an icon of the civil rights movement today, but her music has been pretty much forgotten. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve heard enough of her to say whether this is justified, which is a shame.

  • MDtoMN

    Her music isn’t forgotten if you listen to gospel music. My family is very conservative, and my Dad loves Rush Limbaugh. He knows my siblings and I hate Rush, so he’d often listen to Gospel stations when we were in the car (he’s got a lot of good points, despite the conservative bent). As a result, I became familiar with Mahalia Jackson at a young age.
    Mahalia Jackson was a crucial part of the civil rights movement, and her music was always religious. Even when she made more commercially oriented music, it was often religious (i.e. Christmas songs). In many ways, she was like Aretha Franklin except instead of moving into popular music, Mahalia Jackson stayed in the religious and gospel tradition. I would argue that she may be the best gospel singer of all time.
    I strongly recommend Gospels, Spirituals, and Hymns, a collection of her songs. Her song “I’m going to live the life i sing about in my song” has remained one of the best pieces I have ever heard. If you don’t like religiously themed music, you still might like the popular songs listed in her Wikipedia entry.
    I honestly am deeply, deeply sad that she isn’t better known today. I truly believe she may be one of the best musical performers of the 20th century. Also, she puts modern “Christian Rock” and such to shame. I mean, if you’re going to listen to religious music, I say it’s got to be gospel.

  • howard

    MDtoMN says roughly what i was going to say: the first reason to know mahalia’s music is that she was one of – if not – the greatest gospel singers of all time. anyone with a feeling for gospel knows mahalia (who i actually think was best known for “he’s got the whole world in his hands” and who also made one of the great christmas albums).

  • but her performance of “I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned”
    Odetta did a nice version of that song. Are you sure you aren’t thinking of her?

  • d

    who performed at the at the Washington march in August ’63….

  • charles pierce

    Jesus holy god.
    How does she stay on the floor?
    Her Christmas album will be in heavy rotation very soon hereabouts.

  • howard

    i was just reminded – thanks to the miracle of ipod shuffle – that as part of his “new orleans suite,” duke ellington has a marvelous little piece called “portrait of mahalia jackson” that any fan of hers should check out….

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