I Will Move On Up A Little Higher by Mahalia Jackson (1947)

One of these mornings
One of these mornings
I’m gonna lay down my cross
Get me a crown
One of these evenings, oh Lord
Late one evening, my Lord
Late one evening
I’m going home to live on high
Starts as soon as my feet strike Zion
Lay down my heavy burdens
Put on my robe in Glory, Lord
Say Lord, tell a story
Above the hills and mountains, Lord
Up Christian fountain
All of God’s sons and daughters, Lord
Drinking that old healing water
Live on forever
Yes, we gonna live on forever
Yes, we gonna live on up in Glory after while
I’m goin’ out sight-seeing in Beulah, Lord
March all around God’s alter
Gonna walk, never tired
Oh, Lord, and never falter

Written by W. Herbert Brewster • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

In her masterful book Housekeeping, Marilynn Robinson wrote “Families will not be broken. Curse and expel them, send their children wandering, drown them in floods and fires, and old women will make songs of all these sorrows and sit on the porch and sing them on mild evenings.”  She might well have been talking about the struggle of black Americans in the early twentieth century and their most resonant songstress Mahalia Jackson.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

Jackson’s first attempt at recording for Decca Records was a failure. People who could afford to buy records didn’t normally buy gospel, and so the recordings flopped. Music executives tried to get her to record in a more popular genre, knowing that her vocal abilities could make her very successful singing jazz or blues. She refused, feeling it would be a betrayal of her calling. The result was seven years without doing any recording, instead focusing on meeting the growing demand for concerts.

When “I Will Move On Up a Little Higher” was made into a record, the expectations were modest, but it was discovered and played regularly by Chicago DJ Studs Terkel, who actively promoted the song. It sold fifty thousand copies in four weeks, and Apollo Records could not keep up with the orders. It eventually sold over a million copies and got national attention. White audiences discovered her sound and loved it, and as the word about this gospel singer with a voice of unearthly beauty spread, new opportunities began to come her way. She performed at Carnegie Hall (where she broke attendance records), toured the States and Europe, and appeared on the television shows of Dinah Shore and Ed Sullivan. Eventually she even had her own short-lived TV program, which despite its overall popularity was canceled due to the loud complaints of racist viewers.

Throughout her life Jackson struggled against racial prejudice. When she went for drives in her Cadillac she was often stopped by police officers who thought a black woman could not possibly own such a car. She was sometimes refused food and lodging in white-only restaurants and hotels. Someone even shot out her front window when she moved into a predominantly white neighborhood. And so, as the civil rights movement began to form around Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, she joined the fight, singing for free at civil rights events and raising money for the cause. She believed that the same God who had rescued the Israelites from captivity in Egypt would bring emancipation to African Americans. But she knew that emancipation would not come without a battle, and she did not hesitate to throw her influence behind the cause.

Which singer touches your heart with their voice?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R

Mahalia Jackson


Mahalia Jackson

(1911–72), U.S. gospel singer. With her booming, soulful voice, African American singer Mahalia Jackson belted out hymns and spirituals with an intensity and richness that made her famous around the world. Although she could have become a successful blues singer, Jackson decided at an early age to devote her talent to music with religious content and her energy to helping people live in peace and harmony.

Mahalia Jackson was born on Oct. 26, 1911, in New Orleans, La., to Johnny Jackson, a longshoreman, preacher, and barber, and his wife, Charity, a laundress and maid. A very poor family, the Jacksons were also extremely religious. Mahalia’s mother, who died when Mahalia was 5, was a devout Baptist, and Mahalia regularly sang hymns in the church choir. Growing up in New Orleans, Mahalia was also influenced by the diverse sounds and rhythms of the streets, as well as the songs of legendary blues singer Bessie Smith. While the blues style was popular with blacks in the South, Mahalia’s family rejected blues songs as being decadent and discouraged her from singing them.

When she was 16, Jackson went to live with a relative in Chicago, where she hoped to attend nursing school. Armed with only an eighth-grade education, Jackson soon found herself earning money doing domestic work. Upon joining a local Baptist church, Jackson auditioned for the choir and was immediately invited to be a soloist. Word of her talent spread and soon she was performing at other churches and at funerals throughout the Chicago area. When Jackson’s grandfather had a stroke and lapsed into a coma, she promised that if he recovered she would never sing any songs of which he would disapprove. He recovered and she kept her vow, though she was later offered large sums of money to perform the blues in nightclubs.

Beginning in the late 1930s, Jackson spent five years touring the country with well-known composer Thomas A. Dorsey. They visited churches and gospel tents, where Jackson would sing traditional hymns. Having earned very little money in her years of touring, Jackson returned to Chicago and opened a beauty shop and a flower shop. One day Jackson was practicing in a recording studio in 1946 when a Decca record company representative overheard her singing and asked her to make a recording. “Move on up a Little Higher” (1946) became her breakthrough hit. The single eventually went platinum and thrust her into the national spotlight.

Suddenly famous, Jackson bought an automobile large enough to sleep in so that she would have a place to spend the night when she performed in segregated areas where motels refused rooms to blacks. She also carried her own food with her so that she would not have to patronize segregated restaurants. Jackson’s remarkable singing eventually attracted white audiences. Her popularity spread nationally and internationally. One of Jackson’s most famous concerts took place in Israel, where she performed for an audience of Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Jackson devoted a great deal of her time and energy to the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s. She participated in the Montgomery bus boycott that followed Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her bus seat to a white person. She sang the old inspirational “I Been ’Buked and I Been Scorned” to more than 200,000 people at the 1963 march on Washington, D.C., just before Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Jackson died from heart failure on Jan. 27, 1972, and was mourned by fans around the world. Her one unfulfilled ambition had been to build a nonsectarian, nondenominational church in Chicago. Mahalia Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Early Influences category in 1997.


Sources & Resources

“Jackson, Mahalia,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Jackson, Mahalia. Mahalia Jackson: The Power and the Glory. Directed by Jeff Scheftel. DVD. Santa Monica, CA: Xenon Pictures, 2003.

The Story of Gospel Music: The Power in the Voice. Directed by James Marsh and Andrew Dunne. DVD. London: BBC Warner, 1996.

Willman, Chris. “How Gospel Great Mahalia Jackson Gave Wing to MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech.”

Yahoo Music. January 18, 2015. https://www.yahoo.com/music/how-gospel-great-mahalia-jackson-gave-wing-to-108223937471.html.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).


Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.

Published by

Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life