The Library: Mahalia Jackson's "Summertime and Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"

When I started doing The Library posts, I set out to suggest tracks that I thought would fit in any music fan's library. Today's selection is a little bit different. Mahalia Jackson is The Queen of Gospel. As far as I'm concerned, she has one of the most beautiful voices ever recorded in the history of music. She performed gospel music her entire life and eventually gained a wide audience as an in-demand live gospel vocalist. She also stuck to her morals, performing only Gospel music and refusing gigs in any venue she deemed inappropriate.

Mahalia's voice is that rare mix of control, emotion, and beautiful dark round vowels. It's smooth as molasses and sincere as young child's letter to Santa Claus. She did not do any excessive vocal histrionics because she did not need to. When the voice is that strong, it's enough to just sing the song and sing it well. It's the kind of style that inspires a singer to better themselves.

The track "Summertime and Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" is a rarity for Mahalia Jackson. "Summertime," from the opera Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, and DuBose Howards, is a secular work. Mahalia didn't sing secular work. However, it becomes quite clear that she takes the song and focuses on the religious element of the lullaby.

One of these mornings You're going to rise up singing Then you'll spread your wings And you'll take to the sky

What makes this recording really stand out is the inclusion of another song over Gershwin's bluesy arrangement. "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" is an old spiritual song about renewing faith in God. A singer is lost in the world, asking God for guidance in her life. Her answer comes in prayer.

The integration of these two different songs is seamless. The first time I heard this recording a few years ago, I honestly thought I was hearing an alternate text of the song from a revised production of Porgy and Bess. Mahalia Jackson sells a sincere and passionate performance of a song mash-up that clearly meant a lot to her. You cannot fake this level of devotion.

It is a beautifully produced track with an exquisite vocal that could fit into any music library. It's so much more than just a gospel recording. It's great music.

"Summertime and Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" by Mahalia Jackson is available to download at all the major music services.

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