MAKING MUSIC: HAIL MAHALIA

Mahalia Jackson with Lauraine Goreau. Jazz Fest, N.O., photograph, 8 × 10 in., 1970. Courtesy of the New Orleans Jazz Club Collections of the Louisiana State Museum. 1978.118(B).04053

The Louisiana State Museum and the National Park Service honored Hero of New Orleans Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972) on her birthday on October 26, in a performance that was part of the Nola4Women Women of New Orleans: Builders and Rebuilders initiative. Jackson, of course, remains one of New Orleans’ most famous women.  She was born in an area of uptown called Black Pearl, and she came of age singing in churches. She always acknowledged the influence of this Crescent City religious home and church life.

This image from the Jazz Club Collection of the Louisiana State Museum shows her at the first New Orleans Jazz Fest, held then in what was called Beauregard Square (now Armstrong Park). Jackson didn’t like coming home to New Orleans too often, feeling intensely the legacy of segregation and prejudice towards African Americans. Her second home was Chicago. In truth, she was an international figure but she always retained friends from her birthplace, and perhaps that is why, in 1970, she came to this event.

She is pictured here with another New Orleans native, Lauraine Goreau (1918-1985). From the 1960s on, Goreau and Jackson had been friends, traveling together, for example, in 1970 to India, Japan and Israel. Goreau was a journalist for the New Orleans States-Item and had many honors for her work. In 1975, she published a biography of Mahalia Jackson called Just Mahalia, Baby. Interestingly, in terms of parallels to the present efforts of Nola4Women to focus on notable women, Goreau was chosen as one of fifteen notable women of the city in 1969. The newspaper article heralding this award was entitled “Minds of Women Called Huge Untapped Resource.”  Goreau was also a playwright and a songwriter. One of her songs, showed both her love of her hometown and others, her own interests in religion. The first was entitled ”Show Me A City LikeNew Orleans,” and the second, ”Is Baby Jesus Warm in the Manger?” and ”Voodoo Candles.”

The photograph here is part of the LSM New Orleans Jazz Club Collection, whose efforts to document music in the city date to 1948. Lauraine Goreau’s photographs and other research materials about Mahalia Jackson are housed at the Hogan Jazz Archives, Tulane University, another Nola4Women partner.