The upcoming biopic “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia Jackson” — the first project produced under a partnership between “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts and Lifetime, which was inked in 2018 — is a fictionalized retelling of 40 years in the life of one of the greatest gospel singers of all time, dubbed the “Queen of Gospel.” Co-produced by Roberts’ Rock’n Robin shingle, the much-anticipated TV movie stars Tony Award nominee, SAG, and Grammy Award winning actress Danielle Brooks (“Orange is the New Black”) as the legend and civil rights trailblazer, and is directed by Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon (“Fences”).
It marks a creative reunion of Brooks and Leon after previously working together on an all-Black contemporary production of “Much Ado About Nothing” for the Shakespeare in the Park series at the Public Theater in New York City. This pleasure derived from that experience made Brooks comfortable under Leon’s direction once again.
“I just knew that I was going to be in good hands,” said the actress during the Lifetime’s CTAM Winter 2021 Press Tour, on Tuesday. Leon and Roberts hand-picked Brooks to play the iconic gospel singer, which she viewed as both a blessing and a moment of intimidation when she realized how much responsibility she would have to assume. “When it came down to actually stepping into [Mahalia Jackson’s] shoes, I had to hang onto to faith, because I realized that I would have to sing all these songs. But it’s something that I’d been studying, watching every YouTube video of her, reading everything that I could possibly read, looking at pictures of her, because pictures can tell so many stories, and just soaking her up. So when we started, I had to let go and trust the universe to do its thing and get out of the way, which is something that we’ve all had to do during this time.”
Born in New Orleans, Jackson began singing at an early age and went on to become one of the most revered gospel figures in United States history, merging her music with her work as a civil rights activist. Her recording of the song “Move on Up a Little Higher” sold millions of copies, skyrocketing her to international fame and gave her the opportunity to perform at diverse settings, including in front of a racially integrated audience at the prestigious Carnegie Hall, as well as at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball.
An active supporter of the civil rights movement, Jackson sang at numerous rallies, including the March on Washington in 1963 alongside her dear friend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in hopes that her music would encourage and inspire racial equality. Jackson took centerstage at the historic march, where she not only performed as the lead-in to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but she also played a direct role in turning that speech into one of the most memorable and meaningful in American history.
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SOURCE: IndieWire, Tambay Obenson