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Move On Up a Little Higher

MUSIC & ART

Mahalia Jackson and Charles White: Move On Up a Little Higher

Mahalia Jackson: Move on Up a Little Higher

One a-these mornings
Soon one morning
I'm gonna lay down my cross
Get me a crown
Soon one evening
Late in the evening
Late in the evening
I'm going home to live on high
Soon as my feet strike Zion
Lay down my heavy burdens
Put on my robe in Glory
Goin' home, one day, and tell my story
I been climbing over hills and mountains
Gonna drink from the Christian fountain
You know, all a-God's sons and daughters, that morning
Will be drinking that ol' healing water
And we gonna live on forever
We gonna live on forever
We gonna live on, up in Glory after while
I'm goin' out sight-seeing in Buelah
March all around God's alter
Gonna walk and never get tired
Gonna fly, Lord, and never falter
I'm gonna move up a little higher
Gonna meet ol' man Daniel
I'm gonna move up a little higher
Gonna meet the Hebrew Children
I'm gonna move up a little higher
Gonna meet Paul and Silas
I'm gonna move on up a little higher
Gonna meet my friends and kindred
I'm gonna move on up a little higher
Gonna meet my loving mother
I'm gonna move on up a little higher
Gonna meet that Lily of the Valley
I'm gonna feast with the Rose of Sharon
It will be always howdy howdy
It will be always howdy howdy
It will be always howdy howdy
And never goodbye
Oh, will you be there early one morning
Will you be there, somewhere 'round God's alter
Will you be there, oh, when the angels shall call God's roll
God knows I'll be waiting, hmmm
Yes, I'll be watching somewhere 'round God's alter
Well, I'll be waiting, oh, at the beautiful, yes, golden gates
Well, well, soon as my feet strike Zion
Gonna lay down my heavy burdens
Gonna put on my robe in Glory
I'm going home, one day, tell my story
I been climbing over hills and mountains
I'm gonna drink from the Christian fountain
You know all God, God's sons and daughters that mornin'
Will drink that ol' healing water
Meet me there, early one morningj
Meet me there, somewhere 'round the alter
Meet me there, oh, when the angels shall call God's roll

Mahalia Jackson: ‘Move On Up a Little Higher’, released December 1947, Label Apollo, Songwriter Rev. William Herbert Brewster.

***

Artist Charles White created the inspirational work Move On Up a Little Higher, a charcoal drawing named after a best-selling gospel song recorded by the legendary singer Mahalia Jackson. Here he helps us experience the moving lyric “I’m gonna … lay down my heavy burdens [and] put on my robe in glory.” A seated Black woman lifts her arms above her head, palms turned toward the sky in an act of praise. Her eyes are cast down and her brow is furrowed. Her cropped hair frames her somber, weathered face, and she wears a full gown that looks like a choir robe. Although the setting is indistinct, a bright, heavenly light surrounds her, perhaps even radiating from her. The vertical lines White drew around her reinforce a sense of uplifting movement. When Jackson released “Move On Up a Little Higher” in 1948, it launched her to international fame and also brought attention to the civil rights struggle. Living and teaching in California since 1956, White was removed from what seemed like the front lines of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. Yet White’s perspective, far from the harsh realities of segregation and violence, gave him the freedom to create symbolic images, artworks that promoted civil rights differently than literal portrayals of the struggle did. As seen with Move On Up a Little Higher, White’s drawings could produce an emotional experience akin to that of music, an effect one Los Angeles critic called “visual spirituals.” https://americanart.si.edu/education/oh-freedom/charles-white

Charles White, Move On Up a Little Higher, 1961, charcoal and Wolff carbon pencil on board, 40 3/16 x 48 1/4 in. National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C., USA.

Charles White (1918–1979) was an African American painter, printmaker, and teacher who created powerful images of African American life from the 1930s through the 1970s. White himself described his work as “images of dignity”—a theme that was unwavering over the course of his four-decade career. White believed that art had a role to play in changing the world: “Art must be an integral part of the struggle. It can’t simply mirror what’s taking place. It must adapt itself to human needs. It must ally itself with the forces of liberation. The fact is, artists have always been propagandists. I have no use for artists who try to divorce themselves from the struggle.” After high school White received a scholarship to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1938 he joined the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as an easel painter and went on to create a mural of five notable African Americans for the Chicago Public Library. Between 1942 and 1943 he received a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to study at the Art Students League in New York City, which culminated in his painting a mural about African American history at Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia. After serving in World War II in 1944 as a camouflage artist, he settled in New York City. He settled in Southern California in 1957, where he taught at the Otis Art Institute from 1965 until his death in 1979. https://americanart.si.edu/education/oh-freedom/charles-white ; https://www.moma.org/artists/6339

Mahalia Jackson (1911 –1972) was an American gospel singer, widely considered one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th century. With a career spanning 40 years, Jackson was integral to the development and spread of gospel in black churches throughout the U.S. During a time when racial segregation was pervasive in American society, she met considerable and unexpected success in a recording career, selling an estimated 22 million records and performing in front of integrated and secular audiences in concert halls around the world. The granddaughter of enslaved people, Jackson was born and raised in poverty in New Orleans. She found a home in her church, leading to a lifelong dedication and singular purpose to deliver God's word through song. She moved to Chicago as an adolescent and joined the Johnson Singers, one of the earliest gospel groups. Jackson was heavily influenced by musician-composer Thomas Dorsey, and by blues singer Bessie Smith, adapting Smith's style to traditional Protestant hymns and contemporary songs. After making an impression in Chicago churches, she was hired to sing at funerals, political rallies, and revivals. Nationwide recognition came for Jackson in 1947 with the release of "Move On Up a Little Higher", selling two million copies and hitting the number two spot on Billboard charts, both firsts for gospel music. Jackson's recordings captured the attention of jazz fans in the U.S. and France, and she became the first gospel recording artist to tour Europe. She regularly appeared on television and radio, and performed for many presidents and heads of state, including singing the national anthem at John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Ball in 1961. Motivated by her experiences living and touring in the South and integrating a Chicago neighborhood, she participated in the civil rights movement, singing for fundraisers and at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. She was a vocal and loyal supporter of Martin Luther King Jr. and a personal friend of his family. Throughout her career Jackson faced intense pressure to record secular music, but turned down high paying opportunities to concentrate on gospel. Completely self-taught, Jackson had a keen sense of instinct for music, her delivery marked by extensive improvisation with melody and rhythm. She was renowned for her powerful contralto voice, range, an enormous stage presence, and her ability to relate to her audiences, conveying and evoking intense emotion during performances. Passionate and at times frenetic, she wept and demonstrated physical expressions of joy while singing. Her success brought about international interest in gospel music, initiating the "Golden Age of Gospel" making it possible for many soloists and vocal groups to tour and record. (wikpedia)


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