March 7, 2013

Montreal show focuses on famous gospel singer

MONTREAL — Get ready to clap your hands, stomp your feet and raise the roof.

The Segal Centre presents “The Mahalia Jackson Musical,” an original musical production that explores the life of the iconic gospel singer. It stars Montreal jazz vocalist Ranee Lee in the title role.

“This is a memory piece,” said writer and director Roger Peace.


The tale spans five decades and begins with Jackson’s early years in New Orleans.

“She was born dirt poor in 1911 in a shack she shared with 13 siblings and relatives,” Peace said. “And she rose to become the Queen of Gospel; a major force in the civil-rights movement, along with Martin Luther King Jr.; and a friend of kings and queens and politicians all over the world.”

The story continues to show Jackson as she would be in 1963 at the civil-rights march on Washington.

“We finish on that high point,” Peace said. “She was right next to Martin Luther King in front of the Lincoln Memorial on that day.”

Peace adds an interesting side note to that famous day in history.

“Mahalia was on the platform and had just finished singing a song,” Peace said. “Martin stepped forward to do his speech.”

Peace says that Jackson saw King looking at some notes.

“She went over to him and said, ‘Martin, why don’t you tell them about your dream?’”

Peace adds that King had said his now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech before on other occasions.

“But if she had not said that, who knows, maybe he would not have said that speech on that day.”


Peace has also penned other stage works about Edith Piaf, Sophie Tucker and Judy Garland.

“I have a bit of history writing about famous women entertainers.”

The writing muse struck once again, and Peace was looking for a new subject.

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