Required listening: Mahalia and Billie

November 23, 2008

Side note on my Sam Lowry post: “Sam” said he wanted to lay down a gospel choir sound at the end of the piece and have me wail like Mahalia Jackson on top of it. I’d vaguely listened to Mahalia before, but not intently, so I borrowed an album from Sam. As soon as I first caught a waft of “Trouble Of The World”, I shut off the lights, cranked up the volume, and laid down on the floor in front of the stereo with my eyes closed. I prostrated myself at the altar of greatness.

I was blown away by Mahalia’s simple yet completely authentic delivery. (“Delivery” is such a thin term, a term used by intellectuals who are unable to reach beyond the surface.) I was blown away by the greatness pouring forth from my speakers. I’ve rarely heard so much brilliance packed into such a small, un-self-conscious performance. Mahalia just sang. She sang from her heart—no, she sang from her soul. She didn’t mess about with funky ornamentation and syncopation just to “liven things up”—she was singing in praise of her Lord and she surrendered completely to it.

Before any singer believes s/he has talent, s/he should listen to Billie Holliday’s “Solitude and Mahalia Jackson’s “Trouble Of The World—in the dark, with no barriers of mind or spirit.