The Mahalia Jackson Musical traces the rise of celebrated singer and civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson, from poverty in New Orleans, to international success as one of the most influential gospel artists in the world. As told by Mahalia herself and members of her family, the play takes the audience on an uplifting journey through the development of her career and her key involvement in the Civil rights movement – culminating with Martin Luther King’s historic March on Washington, where she performed in front of 250, 000 people.
Mahalia Jackson’s remarkable rags to riches story became the source of inspiration for veteran Montreal playwright and director, Roger Peace, who writes and directs this new musical. Known for capturing the spirit and essence of the most captivating women in show business (Billie Holiday, Etta James, Judy Garland, Edith Piaf), he explains that they key in telling the story “is the music… audiences may not always remember the details, but they will always remember the music.”
He adds: “Mahalia Jackson believed she was put on the earth to spread God’s word through her Gospel music, and people gravitated to her because of the way she made them feel.”
Mahalia Jackson’s moving gospel songs are at the forefront of this exhilarating musical starring Montreal music icon Ranee Lee. Renowned for her ability to channel the grand dames of jazz, this inimitable Juno Award winning singer and actor will win over the hearts and souls of all when she performs favourites like “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In”, “Summertime” and “Down by the Riverside” joined by nine members of Montreal’s Imani Gospel Singers (IGS) choir, under the direction of Marcia Bailey. Montreal Jazz favourite Taurey Butler accompanies on piano.
As various members of Mahalia’s family and friends, Adrienne Irving and Tristan D. Lalla, playing a total of seven characters combined, contribute to the dramatic unfolding of the story that spans close to 50 years. Set design by Jean-Claude Olivier and lighting by Peter Spike Lyne complete this lively production.
Mahalia Jackson – The Voice of civil rights
Mahalia Jackson believed she was put on the earth to spread God’s word through her Gospel music, and people gravitated to her because of the way she made them feel.” - Montreal playwright and director, Roger Peace
Born in 1911 in New Orleans, Mahalia Jackson was raised in a home shared by 13 people by her aunt Duke. Though her earliest influences were the sights and sounds of Uptown New Orleans, hot jazz bands and Bessy Smith’s bluesy voice, she found great inspiration at the Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, where she sang multiple times a week. At the age of 16, like many African Americans in the South, she took part in the Great Migration to Chicago for better opportunities. Ever lifting her spirit through church and its music, she made the oath to use her voice for spiritual song – a promise she kept.
Her fame soared with the 1948 hit “Movie on Up a Little Higher” selling a million copies in the US alone. Battling racism and segregation throughout her life, she rose above it all, and toured throughout the country and was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall at the first Negro Gospel Musical Festival, a monumental event in the history of gospel music. This was followed by mainstream success in the late 1950s, touring the world, recording several albums for Columbia and appearing on many popular television variety shows. Her riveting contralto, signature call and response style and soulful voice made her an international star by 1960.
As early as 1956, Civil Rights leaders called on Mahalia Jackson to lend her powerful voice to the iconic movement – for rallies, marches and demonstration, eventually becoming a close friend and supporter of Martin Luther King Jr. Her activism, combined with her faith and her unrivaled voice made her one of the most important musical artists and historical figures of the 20th century. She died at the age of 60 in 1972, and was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award the same year. She was inducted in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
For additional information and/or tickets: 514.739.7944, www.segalcentre.org