‘Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story’ starring Ledisi to open Pan African Film & Arts Festival

Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story

Los Angeles, CA – Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story starring Grammy winner Ledisi, and an all-star cast including Columbus Short, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Janet Hubert, Vanessa A. Williams, Corbin Bleu and Keith David, has been chosen as the opening night film for the 2022 Pan African Film & Arts Festival. The film, executive produced by Ericka Nicole Malone and Vince Allen, and directed by Denise Dowse will make its debut at PAFF, on April 19, at 7 pm at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) located at 7920 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles.

Mahalia was not only regarded as an iconic gospel singer who broke racial and gender barriers, she was also recognized as a Civil rights activist who understood the power of her position within the movement. Remember Me highlights Mahalia’s unbreakable relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Columbus Short), and her integral role in the Civil rights movement by bringing Mahalia’s fight for freedom and her own personal search for love into the spotlight.

“I am from the South where Mahalia was considered a national treasure, so when I began writing Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story in 2017, I wanted to carefully consider every word to honor this amazing woman. In creating these words for this film, I never imagined it would star the phenomenal musical icon Ledisi and renowned actor Columbus Short,” said executive producer, Ericka Nicole Malone. “To now have the honor of opening PAFF on its 30th anniversary, I am beyond blessed and excited. Premiering my film at a festival that was built on presenting the power of Black cinema is more than an honor, it is a blessing, and I don’t take it lightly.”

Danielle Brooks explains why Mahalia Jackson role is ‘a big choir robe to fill’

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Award-winning actress Danielle Brooks stars as Mahalia Jackson in the Lifetime biopic Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia. (Photo from Lifetime)

Danielle Brooks is known for her roles as Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black and Sofia in the 2015 Broadway production of The Color Purple – portrayals which won her multiple Screen Actors Guild awards and a Grammy, respectively. She started young, cutting her acting teeth in a church play at the age of six and going on to graduate from the prestigious Juilliard School. Yet, when it came to starring as gospel queen Mahalia Jackson in Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia, the award-winning formally trained actress knew she faced a lofty task.

Born in New Orleans, Mahalia Jackson began singing at an early age and went on to become one of America’s most admired gospel figures. In the late 1940s, her arrangement of W.H. Brewster’s “Move On Up A Little Higher” reportedly sold two million copies. Jackson rose in acclaim, performing to racially diverse audiences at Carnegie Hall, touring internationally, and debuting The Mahalia Jackson Show on the CBS radio network. During the 1950s and 1960s, Jackson’s music was threaded into the country’s civil rights movement. An active supporter, she sang at numerous rallies, including the 1963 March on Washington alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., hoping her music would encourage and inspire racial equality. 

Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia covers 40 years of Jackson’s life and features several of her most recognized musical numbers. Brooks does her own singing in the biopic, showcasing a set of pipes previously unheard by many, if not most, of her followers. “A little tricky” is how she described the situation during a recent Zoom interview.

“The fear comes because most people say ‘big shoes to fill,’” Brooks, 31, explained. “I say that’s a big choir robe to fill – to be the ‘Queen of Gospel Music’ when people have not heard [me] as a vocalist yet.” 

She continued, “As people of color, we have high expectations for our people because we only want the best. We want to present the best. So I just wanted to make everybody proud, make my ancestors proud, make Mahalia proud, make my church family from Bethlehem Baptist Church in Fountain Inn, SC proud.” 

If the film trailer is any indication, Brooks has succeeded. 

Among the lessons to be learned from Mahalia, Brooks said, are the importance of relying on our own faith in challenging times and the significance of using our own gifts to bring hope and effect positive change.

Mahalia is executive produced by Robin Roberts and Linda Berman from Rock’n Robin Productions and Lincoln Square Productions, respectively. Brooks along with Tony Award winner Kenny Leon are co-executive producers. Leon is also the film’s director.

Mahalia premieres April 3rd at 8/7c on Lifetime, one day before both Easter and the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

Pastor Shirley Caesar sings “How I Got Over” at 50th Anniversary of MOW (video)

In 1963, gospel’s Queen Mahalia Jackson took to the platform and rattled the heavens with the Clara Ward-inspired “How I Got Over” at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Exactly half a century later, gospel’s reigning queen, Pastor Shirley Caesar, did the same during the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington commemorative celebration.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Mahalia Jackson’s passing

On this date in 1972, Mahalia Jackson–widely regarded as the world’s greatest gospel singer–passed away.  She was 59 years old.  (Almost all news reports indicated she was 60, because her birth year was supposedly 1911.  Her grave marker, however, bears the inscription of 1912 as her year of birth; therefore, she would not have turned 60 until October of 1972.)

Fifty-nine years of age is awfully young, but in her relatively short lifetime, Jackson blazed trails with her contemporaries, stirred souls with her spirited performances, and advocated for civil rights with the heavyweights.  One of her notable associations during that era was with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  A piece published in The Dispatch on Jan. 28, 1972, announces her death and quotes then-President Richard Nixon on her far-reaching impact: Gospel Singer Mahalia Jackson Dies at 60.

October 26th will mark the gospel singer’s 100th birthday.

Related Story 
Mahalia Jackson’s hometown commemorates her 100th birthday with several events

Mahalia Jackson’s hometown commemorates her 100th birthday with several events

Keith Spera has written a nice piece remembering Mahalia Jackson, one whom former president Richard Nixon said was “an artist without peer.”  The article also details events that her hometown of New Orleans has set to commemorate her 100th birthday, which is October 26th.

You can read it here.

Note (updated 10/25/11):  It’s worth noting that Mahalia Jackson’s crypt gives her year of birth as 1912, rather than 1911.  According to gospel historian Robert Marovich, the discrepancy is the result of an error on her birth certificate.  Until Jackson applied for a passport for overseas travel, she was unaware that her birth certificate stated the incorrect birth year, 1911.

Legal Battles in Gospel Music: “Nobody Greater” and Mahalia Jackson

Two gospel music legal battles are in the news this week.  At the core of both are copyright infringement allegations.

Songwriter Travis Malloy has filed a suit against EMI Christian Music Group, Inc., Sony Music Entertainment, Inc. and Darius Paulk, claiming that he was not given co-writing credits for Vashawn Mitchell’s version of “Nobody Greater.”  As a result, it is reported that Malloy seeks one million dollars in damages.

According to www.examiner.com, Paulk, the anthem’s credited writer, insists that he is the sole composer of the work and Malloy’s “claim is baseless.”

Meanwhile in Atlanta, Bishop Frank E. Lott-Johnson was given until today to deliver a copy of the biography Just Halia, Baby to the court, in an effort to prove that playwright Tom Stolz used content from his copyrighted work for the play “Mahalia: A Gospel Musical” without permission.  Lott-Johnson is the copyright claimant of the biography.

Last month, the bishop also claimed ownership of Jackson’s name.  The judge dismissed several of the original allegations as “too vague” and “frivolous.” Lott-Johnson subsequently filed an amendment to his complaint and is expected to provide a copy of the biography and each infringed-upon work that he cited in the amendment.

“Something to Live For” – LaShun Pace

“Something to Live For”
LaShun Pace
From the upcoming CD, Reborn (Available June 28, 2011)

LaShun Pace is coming off of a four-year hiatus to bring us Reborn, which drops Tuesday, June 28th.  Her single, “Something to Live For,” makes me not want to wait.

The tune, which has the Pace Sisters’ sound all over it, is Pace’s personal testimony, I suspect.  After all, the lyrics are telling: “I was ready to give up, throw in the towel. Sickness in the body made me so tired; even when I heard God’s word, I found it heavy to receive. I believed death was best for me, but the power of God arrested me and said I’ve got to live and declare His healing to the nations!”

After sharing from her personal experience, the powerhouse (whom Dr. Bobby Jones once compared to Mahalia Jackson) commands all who are faced with the temptation to call it quits to live and not die, for they have “something to live for!”

Gospel music documentary features legends, hits theaters June 3

Rejoice and Shout gospel music documentary

Rejoice and Shout is a new gospel music documentary that opens in theaters June 3rd.  The San Francisco International Film Festival calls it “the most thoroughly researched and exhaustive film about African-American gospel music ever committed to film.”

The documentary features interviews from Smokey Robinson, Ira Tucker, Anthony Heilbut and Mavis Staples among others, and a lot of footage from pioneers and legends including Rosetta Tharpe, The Dixie Hummingbirds, Mahalia Jackson, Rev. James Cleveland, The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Staples Singers, and Andrae Crouch.

If you are a gospel music enthusiast, the Rejoice and Shout trailer is sure to whet your appetite.