Jimmy McNeal


Feb 28, 2018

Black History Month Heroes: Mahalia Jackson

Dictionary.com defines a hero as a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character; a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal.

We named our daughter (Mahayla) after this next hero of mine. Funny story about us country folks in Texas, we all have a little twang in the voice. They call it a "southern draw". If you're wondering why my daughter's name is spelled different, it's because my family always left out the "I" and added a "Y" and then moved it around and made it sound the like this "Muh-Hey-Luh". My whole life I thought the "I" was silent, lol, until I heard Mahalia's friends actually say her name. Either way, Mahayla Rae McNeal is named after this artists and civil rights activist who effortlessly fits this definition a hero of mine. She's hands down, the best Gospel singer to ever live! For some of you this is the first time you've been introduced to her. YOU'RE WELCOME! Mahalia Jackson was known as the Queen of Gospel music, and in my family, she was the Matriarch of Gospel music. Thousands of men and women admired her and absolutely loved her voice, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and my very own "Granny". Mahalia was my grandmothers favorite singer and has been one of mine since the day I heard her impeccable voice sing these words from the depths of her soul...

"Precious Lord, take me hand. 
Lead me on and let me stand.
I am tired, I'm weak, I'm worn
Through the storm through the night
Lead me on to the light"

- "Precious Lord Take My Hand" 

The day I heard that voice, I knew that I not only wanted to emulate it, but also use it the way she did. She had a way about her that easily displayed her belief in the lyrics she sang. She could even command a room by humming, yes humming! She didn't even have to speak and folks would just go nuts! Here are 2 things I learned from this incredibly gifted woman! 

1. Use the Voice God Gave You to Encourage Others

Did you know that the "I Have a Dream" speech by Dr. Martin Luther King wasn't planned? I didn't either until last month. Mahalia was the first voice heard at the March on Washington on August 28th 1963. The atmosphere that day was filled with worship as she sang "How I got Over" and the crowd joined in with loud shouts while clapping of their hands. Dr. King wanted that time to begin with her voice because it was always an encouragement to him. He was always spurred on by her voice and the way in which she would remind him of the only anchor in whom he could trust, Jesus. She did that several times in his lifetime. While preaching at a church in Chicago about Justice and Equality the video footage showed how his heart was heavy and burdened as he was about to preach. Before he could say a word she simply noticed and started shouting the words to "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho". As you can visibly see in the footage, she led the congregation in song and Dr. King's entire posture changed. She used her voice to help him persevere that day. She also used her voice not only to encourage him through song, but also to inspire at just the right time. Many of the men and women on the stage, the day he gave the renown "I Have a Dream" Speech, witnessed Mahalia be the spark to that flame. Before he said the words that made that speech famous, Mahalia shouted out

"Tell'em about the dream Martin, Tell'em about the dream".

Dr. King then looked at her, slid his notes to the side, and the rest is history. Other folks would've not even said a word as he was speaking that day, but there was no fear on her end. She wanted the people to hear about the dream he had shared with her and others. Mahalia spoke words of encouragement that day, but many know her because of the God given ability that she had as a singer. Which leads me to the next thing I learned from her.

2. Acknowledge the Gift Giver

Mahalia traveled all over the world. Everywhere she went it was obvious that she had an ability and talent that only God could give. Dr. King said, "I think I can say concerning our friend, my great friend Mahalia Jackson; that a voice like this comes only once in a millennium". One of the most amazing stories that I've ever heard about her was from Della Reese, a famous actor and singer. Della Reese shared something she learned at the age of 13 when touring with Mahalia. She would always find Mahalia in the corner whispering before every event or concert they did. She snuck up behind her once and listened to hear what she was doing.  These are the words she heard

"Father, come up through me, to me. Let me express like you want me to. I'm leaving it all in your hands" 

She was praying, begging God to use her. She acknowledged the gift Giver before she walked on any stage and surrendered her plans and even her thoughts. Have you ever asked God to use you in such a way that people see His work through you instead of letting the applause or critique of man move you? That's what Mahalia taught me. I don't compare my gifting to hers, but I do see it as God given. The voice I have, just like many other men and women in this world, is a gift from God. Although I most certainly have, I don't want to use it for my own gain. I'd rather it be used to encourage people and be reminded often to acknowledge the gift giver. Whether through blog, spoken word, or song. I pray God would use me to bless others by way of this gift he's given me. 

Nothin' but love, 


Here are few videos that I referenced in this blog: 

Mahalia singing before Dr. King Preached


The story of the I have A Dream Speech






← Back to blog