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Music DVD Review: A Gospel Calling: Mahalia Jackson Sings

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What do Joni Michell, Buffalo Springfield, and Parliament-Funkadelic have in common with the Grand Dame of Gospel? They were all inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

Yep. Mahalia Jackson, a name synonymous with gospel music, is in the mix with Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis. In fact, Elvis used to tease his back-up singers with the threat of replacing them with Mahalia Jackson. She also has something in common with "the artist formerly known as Prince". She changed her name. Biographer Laurraine Goreau reports that in the early thirties, she added the letter "i" to Mahala to become Mahalia. Unlike when many other famous artists of various genres passed on, no one has stepped up to fill the void created by her death. According to the press release from Infinity Entertainment Group, she "remains the world's most influential gospel singer…" decades after her 1972 death.

A Gospel Calling: Mahalia Jackson Sings is a two-disc collector's set on DVD and will be available April 13, 2012. Each disc contains approximately half of the fifty-eight performances recorded live. These songs aired on NBC during the early sixties. We see Mrs. Jackson in a variety of stage settings, before live audiences, typically alone. Some of the more bluesy or upbeat spiritual numbers include a couple of musicians (standing bass or piano) silhouetted in the background. Several clips show her seated in the pew of a small chapel. Regardless of the venue, few artists can rival her renditions of such gospel classics as: "Sweet Hour of Prayer", "Give Me That Old Time Religion", "He's Got The Whole World in His Hands" and "When the Saints Go Marching In".

The editing is annoying. Each of the 58 songs is preceded by a title page with a few seconds of "You'll Never Walk Alone" being sung in the background. This same song is the first track on the first disc and Jackson sets the standard for this collection with her performance. As good as it is, we don't need to hear it 57 more times. Each track is followed by credits for that particular performance. Couldn't they save them for the end?

Probably every great performer has an "off " day occasionally and if Mahalia Jackson did, NBC didn't capture it. Her diction, clarity, and enthusiasm was evident in every performance. Unfortunately, this early sixties collection had about the same production quality as the presidential debate of the same era. I had hoped that this collection would have been a treasure to enjoy over and over but the production quality and editing only made me glad when it was over. There are no special features included in this DVD set. Maybe there will be a subsequent version with "digitally remastered sound" that will enable Mahalia Jackson to lift our spirits with her incomparable interpretations.

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  • Harry Spring

    Confusing information. One place it says being released 04-13-2010. In the body of the text it says 2012. Which is correct? Also, are not many of these songs already included in the 2 DVD set “The Power and The Glory” dated 2002?