published Friday, October 21st, 2011

'Sing, Mahalia, Sing' honors late gospel singer's 100th birthday

  • photo
    Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson will be remembered in “Sing, Mahalia, Sing,” a theatrical musical featuring local actors and singers.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.


What: "Sing, Mahalia, Sing."

When: 3 and 6 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 30.

Where: Bessie Smith Cultural Center, 200 E. M.L. King Blvd.

Admission: $15 adults, $11 children 12 and younger.

Phone: 266-8658.



As part of the centennial celebration of Mahalia Jackson's birth, the Bessie Smith Cultural Center will host a film event on her 100th birthday, Wednesday, that compiles films, shorts and television appearances by the gospel singer. The noon-2 p.m. event will be held in the center's Vilma Fields Atrium. There is no charge to attend, and participants may bring their lunch. For information, call the center at 266-8658.

Mahalia Jackson, once called "the single most powerful black woman in the United States" by singer Harry Belafonte, would have turned 100 this month.

That, in itself, is a reason to celebrate, said Carmen Davis, curator and programming director at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

To mark the late gospel singer's birth, the BSCC and The Creative Underground are collaborating to present "Sing, Mahalia, Sing," a theatrical musical featuring local actors and singers.

"Music is the focus of it," said Davis. "Shane [Morrow, director of The Creative Underground production company], has taken it and made it unique for the area."

A auditioned 14-person cast, she said, includes a choir that backs many of the numbers.

Davis said the BSCC often collaborates with Morrow in showcasing local talent. Previous collaborations have resulted in programs featuring jazz music and the music of Aretha Franklin.

Jackson, a member of the Grammy, Rock and Roll and Gospel Music halls of fame, was the first black artist to sell more than a million copies of a record (1947's "Move on Up a Little Higher"), was the first gospel singer to perform at New York City's Carnegie Hall (1950), was hailed by critics as the "World's Greatest Gospel Singer" (1952) and sang before 250,000 people at 1963's March on Washington.

The New Orleans native also sang at President John F. Kennedy's inaugural ball and at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

She died at age 60 in 1972.

Although most of the local cast members were born after Jackson's death, according to Davis, they didn't have to be told who she was.

"They have heard of her," she said.

"Sing, Mahalia, Sing," said to be part gospel musical, part biography and part revival meeting, features original music and lyrics by Richard Smallwood, George Faison and Wayne Davis and book by Faison. It originally was a Broadway touring musical -- starring Jennifer Holiday -- in 1985.

Davis said the production is appropriate for all audiences.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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