When Mr. Snyder approached me with the idea of singing an album of old spirituals, my mind immediately went to the greatest and most powerful gospel singer to ever exist, the Great Mahalia Jackson. She was the epitome of soul and love. When she sang, her voice would set your soul on fire. The Gleam in her eyes and her warm smile, to me, was saying, "I love you," leaving you feeling as light as a feather, as if heavy burdens had been lifted. Your soul would be happy, and you'd be walking around for weeks with this broad smile on your face. Hali (as she would call herself) was just downright beautiful.
I am fortunate to have known and worked with her. I was 11 years old when we (my family, the Staple Singers) had the opportunity to work with her.
Pops would always play her records, and I would try to mimic her. I wanted to hear the records sometimes by myself, but I wasn't allowed to touch Pop's 78's. If I should break one, I'd better get my runnin' shoes on. When he told us that we'd be on a program with Mahalia Jackson, my little young heart began to pound. That night after we had sung, I sat in the dressing room and asked her questions. She told me I was a good little singer, and I was so happy. I sprung up and was on my way out the door. She yelled to me, "Where you think you're going?" "Outside to jump rope." I said (us kids would always bring our ropes to church). She said, "Come sit yo' lil' butt down here." She felt my neck and chest and said, "Don't you know you're damp? You just finished singing. Don't you ever go outside without drying off. You won't have no voice at all." She then went on to teach me how to take care of myself, and plus she sent Moms a message. I follow her words step by step to this day.
We worked with her many times after that. The greatest highlight of my entire singing career was at a New York summerfest in 196? when I sang "Precious Lord" with her. She said to me, "Baby, Hali don't feel so good. I want you to help me sing this song." I will never forget that wonderful experience as long as I live, nor shall I forget this Great Lady who was my mentor, my teacher, my friend, the Queen of Gospel, Ms. Mahalia Jackson. And so, more than 30 years later, I sing these old spirituals and gospel songs as a tribute to you.
This Joy That I Have --