Mahalia Jackson

A Mighty Fortress

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Mahalia Jackson's reputation as the greatest gospel singer of all-time is well warranted. More than anyone else, she single-handedly helped this genre cross over both racial and cultural lines. Recorded four years before her death, 1968's A Mighty Fortress found Jackson's recording career and civil rights involvement winding down after the shocking assassinations of both Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King.

A decade after he oversaw her Live at Newport 1958 album, producer Irving J. Townsend returned to helm this recording that successfully married Jackson's passionate vocals with restrained arrangments that enhance rather than overpower. In songs such as "All Is Well" and "Be Still My Soul," it's easy to see how the measured, yet swelling enunciation of this New Orleans native had an effect on a young Aretha Franklin. Elsewhere, Jackson's inspirational readings of "Roll, Jordan, Roll" and "Good News, The Chariot's Coming" find her going into a soulful gear that can be heard in the Staple Singers' later work. Jackson's greatness glistens on "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" and "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name!," a pair of numbers notable for the Marty Paich arrangments that turn them into classical music hymnals worthy of Bach's blessing.

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