By Marnita Coleman
Special to AFRO

In honor of Women’s History Month, we will roll out the red carpet for African-American women that helped pioneer gospel music in America.

We acknowledge the contribution of the late Mattie Moss Clark, choir director and mother of the legendary Clark Sisters, who is credited for creating “three-part harmony,“ which separates vocal parts into soprano, alto and tenor sections. This technique is prevalent among gospel choirs, and heavily used in the music industry today. 

Mahalia Jackson (Photo Courtesy Bing Images)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention other names of women on the frontline that gave their talent to gospel music to catapult it to where it is today, like Rosetta Tharpe, Albertina Walker, Dorothy Norwood, Aretha Franklin, Inez Andrews, The Clark Sisters, CeCe Winans, Vickie Winans, Kim Burrell, Tramaine Hawkins, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Dottie Peoples, Cissy Houston, LaShun Pace, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, and the list goes on.

Certainly, the current day chart busters have their hands in reshaping the sound of gospel music, too. Notably, the dynamic sister-singers Erica and Tina Campbell who formed the group Mary Mary; Kierra Sheard, daughter of Karen Clark Sheard; Jamie Grace, contemporary Christian singer, rapper and musician; and who could’ve imagined Yolanda Adams’ crossover success on the R&B charts, which paved the way for other gospel artists to do the same.   

All of these artists are known to use their diverse sound to push the envelope in order to reach large audiences. 

Every genre also boasts a king or queen who is simply someone who embodies a masterful representation of that particular style of music and whose skill is levels above the rest. Gospel music is no different. The leading lady of gospel music is a true pioneer. According to her biography, Mahalia Jackson, born Oct. 26, 1911 in New Orleans, La., is known as the “Queen of Gospel,” and is revered as one of the greatest musical figures in U.S. history. 

Mahalia Jackson is the foundation on which the gospel artists mentioned above, now stand.  She was gospel music’s first international platinum selling artist. Mahalia was so popular that the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences created the Gospel Music or Other Religious Recording category for her, making her the first gospel artist to receive a Grammy.

Yolanda Adams (Photo Courtesy Bing Images)

Ms. Jackson was a friend to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. She sang at the initial March on Washington in 1963 and performed at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. She worked with Thomas A. Dorsey, known as “the father of gospel music” and cultivated her audience because her fan base extended across racial boundaries.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see her album covers in my mother’s record collection. When my mom played her music on the hi-fi, her contralto voice and pure lyrics pierced the atmosphere.  You would hear mommy singing along as the summer breeze flowed through the windows tossing the curtains in the wind. Ms. Jackson also starred in “Imitation of Life,” one of my mother’s favorite movies.

The internationally renowned gospel singer, composer, and activist, Mahalia Jackson, was instrumental in establishing the gospel music industry. She is to be recognized and not forgotten. We salute you, Mahalia Jackson, for a job well-done!

Marnita Coleman is a freelance writer, an author, and the host of The Marnita Show, a parenting show heard daily across the globe. For more information, log onto