Who would have thought that the “Queen of Gospel” – whose inspired singing, for many years, was known to every household in America – would be nearly forgotten only a generation after her departure?
Making sure that Mahalia Jackson won’t pass quietly away from our memory, producers Ericka Nicole Malone and Vince Allen and director Denise Dowse teamed up to remind the world of the unique voice and glorious presence that earned Mahalia her title and reign as Queen of Gospel. Their film Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story celebrates its world premiere as the Opening Night feature for the 2022 Pan African Film & Arts Festival April 19 at the Directors Guild Theatre in Los Angeles.
Malone, who wrote the script in addition to managing her executive-producer duties, said her writing was a tribute to a woman whose impact on the Civil Rights Movement has never been fully appreciated.
“Remember Me is my personal thank you letter to the Queen of Gospel Mahalia Jackson, honoring her for her amazing legacy in Gospel music, civil rights, and her shining example of an extraordinarily, powerful Black woman,” said Malone.
Remember Me stars Grammy Award winning singer-actress Ledisi as Mahalia Jackson and Columbus Short as Martin Luther King, who counted the singer as one of his greatest inspirations in the Civil Rights Movement.
The Pan African Film Festival opener should not be confused with Lifetime’s movie Mahalia televised in 2021 starring Danielle Brooks and produced by Robin Roberts.
GOING TO CHICAGO
Born in New Orleans in 1911 under the most trying of circumstances, Mahalia Jackson grew up in a shotgun house that was home to 13 of her family members, including her mother, three aunts, siblings, and cousins.
Living next door to a Pentecostal church, she would hear the raucous, jubilant type of singing four days a week that would become her own trademark. She enjoyed all the music of New Orleans, the Jazz, the Blues, the popular songs of the day, but deep in her heart she believed that only the Lord’s music was suitable for her.
Moving to Chicago while still in her teens, she began developing a career that was both promising and disappointing at the same time.
Mahalia paid a voice coach a good portion of her hard-earned dollars for an honest assessment of her talent as a vocalist. The professor took her money and then proceeded to advise her in the worst way possible, telling her, “You’ve got to learn to stop hollering. It will take time to build up your voice. The way you sing is not a credit to the Negro race. You’ve got to learn to sing songs so that white people can understand.”
The Black professor of music was wrong. Mahalia stuck to her natural style of singing. Among her greatest fans were white men like Ed Sullivan, Studs Terkel, and Johnny Carson, bringing her onto their shows as a guest performer as regularly and consistently as any popular white performer in the years before her death in 1972.
Mahalia Jackson was also known as the First Lady of Gospel, another title that was well-deserved. She was embraced by the “father” of Gospel music, Thomas A. Dorsey, the former pianist of Blues legend Ma Rainey. Dorsey caught the Holy Spirit while playing away from home one night in 1932 as his wife and new-born baby lay dying, unbeknownst to him. From that point on, he devoted his talent to creating some of the most beautiful songs and music ever composed, chief among them were “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” and “Peace in the Valley.” In all, Dorsey wrote more than 3,000 songs, including Blues, Jazz, and Gospel.
Dorsey taught Mahalia the style of singing that she became identified with. He also recruited her to stand with him on the street corners of Chicago to apply those techniques. The Negro Spirituals that they were experimenting with had been a part of the Black legacy since Colonial times. But Dorsey’s way was to present these songs in both a slow and mournful and an upbeat manner, very reminiscent of the Blues styles of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Neither Mahalia nor Dorsey experienced immediate success, but by the time she had sung her way onto the more welcoming stages of Harlem in 1946, she had a recording contract and was on track to becoming the Mahalia Jackson that the world would hold in great esteem for the next 26 years.
While Mahalia inspired MLK, there might not have been a Mahalia Jackson to attain the noble stature of Gospel Queen without the craftsmanship of Dr. Dorsey, who created a new universe of spiritual music. Witness his genius and legacy in the work of other performers like the Angelic Gospel Singers in their classic “Come Over Here,” Rev. F. C. Barnes and his singing partner Rev. Janice Brown in “I’m Coming Up on the Rough Side of the Mountain,” and the Sensational Nightingales in their 1960 release “Over in Zion.”
PAFF will honor winners of the 2022 John Singleton Short Film Competition. Jennifer J. Scott and Brandon will have their work “Amaru” presented on the big screen at the Cinemark Theaters Wednesday, April 27, 2022. The Red Carpet event begins at 6 p.m. and the program at 7 p.m.
Inspired by the heroic life of Tupac Amaru Shakur, a 19-year-old discovers he is magically impervious to white supremacy. Amaru is a coming-of-age story about an African American teenager from South Los Angeles.
The late John Singleton was born in Los Angeles to parents who were natives of Vicksburg, Mississippi. He won the 1991 Academy Award for best director for Boyz in the Hood.
PAFF co-founder and executive director Ayuko Babu announced that PAFF will honor the late trailblazing actor, director, and activist Sidney Poitier, who died January 7 at age 94. Poitier played a critical role in providing PAFF with access to the innermost halls of Hollywood and helping it to gain legitimacy within the Academy.
“Mr. Poitier was a loud voice letting the world know who we are when Jim Crow tried to muzzle us,” Babu says. “He portrayed his people with dignity and integrity, setting a standard of consciousness in Hollywood that elevated the roles available to Black actors. His iconic films such as “Lilies of the Field,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “To Sir, With Love,” and “In the Heat of the Night” opened the door for today’s Black actors to demand roles that portray the Black experience with pride, and for that, we will always love him and be grateful. His life and work will continue to be an inspiration throughout generations. Our condolences to his family and loved ones. We all share in this tremendous loss.”
The 30th Pan African Film and Arts Festival runs April 19-May 1 at the Cinemark Baldwin Hills and the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The festival will showcase nearly 200 films, as well as a slew of accompanying filmmaker Q&As and audience engagement opportunities.
For tickets and schedule of film screenings, Google Passes and Tickets – Pan African Film & Arts Festival (PAFF) or go to www.paff.org.