Mahalia Jackson (October 26, 1911 – January 27, 1972) was an African-American gospel singer. With her powerful contralto voice, Mahalia Jackson became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and is the first Queen of Gospel Music. She recorded about 35 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen "golds"—million-sellers.
Born as Mahala Jackson and nicknamed "Halie", Jackson grew up in the Black Pearl section of the Carrollton neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans, Louisiana. The three-room dwelling on Pitt Street housed thirteen people and a dog. This included Little Mahala (named after her aunt, whom the family called Aunt Duke), her brother Roosevelt, whom they called Peter, and her mother Charity. Several aunts and cousins lived in the house as well. Aunt Mahala was given the nickname "Duke". When Peter was born Halie suffered from genu varum, or "bowed legs." The doctors wanted to perform surgery by breaking Halie's legs, but one of the resident aunts opposed it. So Halie's mother would rub her legs down with greasy dishwater. The condition never stopped young Halie from performing her dance steps for the white woman her mother and Aunt Bell cleaned house for.
Her father John Jackson was a Baptist minister who also earned a living as a barber and a stevedore, while her mother Charity worked as both a maid and a laundress. Mahalia was five when her mother, Charity, died, leaving her family to decide who would raise Halie and her brother. Aunt Duke assumed this responsibility, and the children were forced to work from sunup to sundown. Aunt Duke would always inspect the house using the "white glove" method. If the house was not cleaned properly, Halie was beaten. If one of the other relatives was unable to do their chores, or clean at their job, Halie or one of her cousins was expected to perform that particular task. School was hardly an option. Halie loved to sing and church is where she loved to sing the most. Halie’s Aunt Bell told her that one day she would sing in front of royalty, a prediction that would eventually come true. Mahalia Jackson began her singing career at the local Mount Mariah Baptist Church. She was baptized in Mississippi by Mt. Moriah's pastor, the Rev. E. D. Lawrence, then went back to the church to "receive the right hand of fellowship."