Biography: Mahalia A Life In Gospel Music

210GV1V3G6L._AC_US160_.jpgtitle: Mahalia A Life in Gospel Music
author: Roxane Orgill
date: Candlewick, 2002

Roxane Orgill began her writing career as a music critic and she eventually transformed to an author of children’s and young adult biographies, often of those of African American musicians. Her knowledge of music history is definitely present in Mahalia A Life In Gospel Music.

Mahalia Jackson was a gospel singer who was born into one of the last generations of African Americans missing papers to document the year of their birth. Orgill presents this fact, as well as the optional nature of education to Halie’s family simply as the way things were. The author uses comfortably structured sentences and phrases to tell Halie’s story while guiding us into her world. This world, this narrative structure maintains a flow and polish that must in someway reflect Halie’s life. This is a book for young readers, a book meant to teach and motivate, but one does leave the book wondering exactly what kind of person was Halie? Her deep faith is evidenced throughout the book, but what struggles did she face along the way? She was steadfast in her conviction to only sing gospel music, yet she was put out of her aunt’s home in New Orleans after a late night party. I think there’s room for more of Halie’s humanness in the story.

Black and white photos are well placed in the book, with images from the time period used when there were none from Halie’s collection. Supporting characters, relatives and ex-husbands are developed clearly enough to be memorable, making for a good story. I particularly liked having the author’s note upfront, setting the stage for the evidence of the life that is about to be presented.

Ogrill focuses more on Halie’s talent, a voice so rich and blessed that her singing was viewed as preaching. Orgill contextualizes Halie’s emotion filled voice in the history of religious music in America and the contributions that Halie made to the development of gospel music. Is it not difficult to image a time when gospel music was played on the radio along side popular music? Halie sold millions of records through radio airtime in the early 1960s, a time when successful African Americans could not divorce themselves from the tempestuous political climate. Halie, who grew up in the South and knew the limits of living in a segregated society and could not turn her back when she was called to sing when Dr. King preached.

Halie’s biography provides young readers the opportunity to read the life of a woman who was truly a revolutionary; one who had the conviction to work to change music and to change America. #ShePersisted, this woman with a fourth grade education.

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