Before Michael Jackson there was Mahalia Jackson.
And it was Mahalia Jackson’s “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” that preceded Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream Speech” (click here for the backstory).
I became interested in Mahalia because she reminded me of another soulful African-American church voice from my teenage years…
Unlike Mahalia, I don’t remember her name, but I remember the same stance, the same eyes, the same unforgettable voice as she sang a the small Midwestern town’s Southern Baptist church.
She was a young, bird-like African-American woman who, like Mahalia, kept my young eye on Life’s bigger picture.
Much to my dismay — this young woman and the other African-Americans soon left over political reason. But I got just enough of her…her soulful singing of “I’ll Fly Away”.
(Maybe this is why I like birds so much.)
To my hungry ears, God was inside that song.
I didn’t care how much this woman earned for a living, I didn’t care whether or not she wore makeup (she didn’t) or if she was of a certain political bent.
Her voice was church.
Her voice was her soul.
Mahalia Jackson has a similar effect. Their voices somehow undid the images of less-than-positive ways humans treat each other, as at too early of an age I was exposed to the images of what whites did to blacks, what the Japanese did to the Koreans, what the Koreans did to the blacks, and what the whites did to the Koreans (and later learned about the Jews and the Russians…and Italians, Muslims, Hispanics, Native Americans, etc…it was doled out in parts…the Universe probably thought I could only handle so much at one time…). Thankfully, music is a salve. Her voice presents an antidote which is to accept everyone for who they are. When I hear her sing, I can’t help but sway and shake my head…
When I hear their voices, there is no race and no color. And for that I’m grateful for the power of music.
In this dream, truly, music is heaven.
Thank you to Ms. Mahalia Jackson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and that young black woman who left such a soulful impression on a young Korean-American girl.
I carry those voices and they carry me.