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Come Sunday: Remembering Mahalia Jackson

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

Music guides me everywhere I go. There’s rarely a moment when I am not hearing music in the back of my mind. This past Monday was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the 27th annual freedom march was held in Bryan, where members of the community gathered to walk together in honor of the life and legacy of Dr. King. While we walked, there was a song playing in my head:

Lord, dear Lord of love. God almighty, God above

Please, look down and see my people through.

When I was a student at Brite, I took a class on contemplative spirituality. One day when we gathered for class, my professor asked us to be present and listen to this song written by Duke Ellington and sung by the incredible Mahalia Jackson. I sat there, listening to every note of the eight-minute song entitled “Part IV (Come Sunday).” Truly, it’s a masterpiece. I didn’t know much about Mahalia Jackson, but I tend to research the lives of those who create music that stirs the deepest parts of my soul. What I learned is that Mahalia Jackson is legendary, and there is a reason why her music played in the background of my mind while I walked alongside our Friends church Youth Group during the march for Dr. King.

He'll give peace and comfort to every troubled mind

Come Sunday, oh come Sunday

That's the day.

Mahalia Jackson was considered the Queen of Gospel, with a voice that echoed throughout the civil rights movement. Prior to taking the stage for his speech during the March on Washington in August of 1963, Dr. King chose Mahalia Jackson to sing before the crowd of over 200,000. A few hours prior to his speech, Dr. King and those who had helped craft the words and create drafts were still discussing what the final outline would look like. This ended with MLK leaving and telling them, “I am now going upstairs to my room to counsel with my Lord.”

The next day, after Mahalia Jackson finished her song, Dr. King took to the stage and began his speech before briefly pausing. At that moment, Mahalia Jackson shouted from behind him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream.” It is written that Dr. King then pushed his notes to the side and went off script, delivering the speech that is well known to this day.

Often we feel weary, but he knows our every care

Go to him in secret, he will hear your every prayer.

Each year on the day commemorating the life of Dr. King, I think of Mahalia Jackson, her voice echoing in my mind like a prayer, like a spirit who kindles the unexpected within us. I often reflect on prayer, on how to pray, and what it means. When I think of Mahalia Jackson, Dr. King, and their legacies this time of year, I am reminded of this:

When it comes to praying, go off script, and tell them about the dream.


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