Jules Schwerin - Got To Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen Of Gospel

Sunday 1st August 1993
Jules Schwerin - Got To Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen Of Gospel
Jules Schwerin - Got To Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen Of Gospel

RATING 5 5 5 5 5
LABEL: Oxford University Press
FORMAT: Book General book

Reviewed by Tony Cummings

Considering the source material filmmaker Mr Schwerin had at his disposal, including numerous interviews that the author conducted with the 50s and 60s queen of gospel, this is a mightily disappointing volume. It contains none of the intimate detail that the purple prose tome by Lorraine Goreau Just Mahalia Baby featured in 1975. And there's none of the gospel music overview displayed in Tony Heilbut's chapter on Mahalia in The Gospel Sound. In fact, Jules Schwerin's lack of gospel music knowledge will irritate any collector while the misspelling of many gospel artists' names and lack of index do nothing to enhance the of academic publisher OUP. Finally, on the negative side there are some structural red herrings in the book, valuable space given to simplistic white liberal denouncements of Eisenhower and irrelevant conspiracy theories about the killings of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Clearly Schwerin was more concerned to elevate Mahalia as a totem of the civil rights movement than to document her enormous contribution to gospel music. But for all its failings, 'Got To Tell It' still contains some fascinating material. Schwerin's interviews with Mahalia's long time musical associate Brother John Sellers bring out some riveting insights. The picture of Mahalia's life that Schwerin paints is tragically some way from the unblemished servant of God of Mahalia's public image. In fact, this book, though not its intention, finally demolishes the myth of popular liberal conscience showing Mahalia's elevation to an international showbiz icon left her suspicious, irrational and at times consumed with avarice. She treated her long time pianist Mildred Falls abominably. Her lust for wealth was very sad. If you're a fan of one of the most thrilling voices in gospel and feel you can take a warts-and-all biography of its possessor, you may want to investigate this.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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