Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia (2021)

Mahalia Jackson (Grammy award wining singer and Orange Is the New Black actress Danielle Brooks) became the Queen of Gospel as well as the voice of the civil rights movement. With a four decade career, Jackson was one of the reasons why gospel blues became so important to black churches throughout the U.S. And more importantly, during a time when racial segregation existed, she sold an estimated 22 million records and performed in front of black and white audiences.

The granddaughter of former slaces, Jackson was born into poverty in New Orleans. The church and music was her salvation, which is why she always wanted to deliver the Word of the Lord through her music. After years of being a singer anywhere she could find a place to sing, including funerals and churches, her recording of “Move On Up a Little Higher” reached number two on the Billboard charts. She did that without singing secular music, something she stuck to for her entire career.

With a story by Bettina Gilois (who also wrote Bessie, a movie about Jackson’s inspiration Bessie Smith) and a teleplay by Todd Kreidler, this tells the life story of Jackson in a very dynamic way. It’s directed by Kenny Leon, who directed the Hairspray Live! and The Wiz Live! TV movies.

The moments with Dr. Martin Luther King (Rob Demery) are very moving, particularly when he asks her to sing a song that he loves at his funeral, should he die before her. Of course, he did, and the moments where we see how Jackson was part of the civil rights movement should remind us that this was only sixty years ago.

While a Lifetime movie, this could have played theaters. For a subject that I wouldn’t think I’d enjoy, I can’t believe how much I was moved by this movie.

Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia is now availble on DVD from Lionsgate.

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