I don't listen to a whole lot of gospel, virtually none it has to be said. In fact, I have more sufi or Buddhist music in my record stacks than gospel. But this is the one exception that proves the rule. Maybe it's because I saw the classic Jazz on a Summer's Day documentary at a highly impressionable age... Just the opening does it for me: "It is Sunday and it's time for the world's greatest gospel singer..." Damn right it is. Turn up the volume, especially on 'Didn't it rain.' Actually, no matter what day of the week, this really is an all-time classic.
It was 1958 at the Newport Jazz Festival, and the announcer said it all: "Ladies and gentlemen... the World's Greatest Gospel Singer, Miss Mahalia Jackson." And, with that all-too-appropriate introduction, Jackson broke into a stirring rendition of "An Evening Prayer" that set the tone for a classic performance. Over the course of her 45-minute set, she performed pop-tinged numbers ("Didn't It Rain"), a few trad tunes ("I'm Going to Live the Life I Sing About in My Song"), and songs immersed with soul ("Keep Your Hand on the Plow"). On all of these numbers, Jackson's voice rang loud and clear, backed simply by piano and organ. Recorded at a time when her longtime fans were questioning her increasing fame and popularity, the "Queen of Gospel" proved shiningly, once again, that she still knew how to use her God-given gift of voice.