Mahalia Jackson was born 100 years ago on this very day in 1911 New Orleans as Mahala Jackson (she added the "i" sometime in the early 1930s). After a troubled childhood she moved to Chicago where her music career began in earnest. Despite never recording any secular music -- she refused to -- international fame hit in the late 1940s and she's been virtually canonized sense. Though she's never had a biopic (why not?) her history is closely tied with the story of Black America. She was part of The Great Migration in the 1930s. She was the first gospel singer to perform at Carnegie Hall and became famous all over the world. She sang at the March on Washington in 1963 and later at Martin Luther King Jr's funeral. (When she died in 1972, Aretha Franklin returned the favor and sang at hers.)
As is true with most music icons, there are film connections. Spike Lee's Jungle Fever uses her music prominently and she also appears in archival footage in his documentary Four Little Girls. Though she wasn't an actress per se, she did appear in films as a singer. You can watch her performance in the musical St Louis Blues (1958) on Netflix Instant Watch currently. (It's a treasure trove of famous African American celebrities: Nat "King Cole, Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, etcetera). Two-thirds of the way through the film, her voice actually heals a blind man! You have to have a voice like Mahalia's to get away with that even within a spiritually-minded melodrama.
Mahalia's most indelible contribution to cinema came a year later. The Douglas Sirk classic Imitation of Life (1959) halts in its gorgeous colorful tracks to listen to Mahalia's soulful wail to the heavens. "Trouble of the World", indeed.
Her voice is so emotionally acute that even Ice Queen Supreme Lana Turner couldn't help but be visibly shaken by it.