Though Mahalia Jackson sang almost exclusively in sacred settings, making exceptions for Carnegie Hall and Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 march on Washington, she was instrumental in transforming gospel music into the popular fare it is today. Starting her career as a demonstration singer for the legendary Reverend Thomas Dorsey, this New Orleans native went on to bring her music to Depression-era audiences via radio (notably Studs Terkel's show) and later television. Jackie Taylor's play about this remarkable woman was originally mounted at the South Shore Cultural Center last spring; now Taylor has expanded it to take advantage of Black Ensemble Theater's larger stage and to give her subject more of a historical context. The focus is still on Sister 'Halia, again played by the phenomenal LaTonya Beacham (whose plaintive rendition of "Soon I Will Be Done" stopped the show on the night I attended). She's assisted by Melvin R. Abston and Jacqui Thomas, no vocal slouches themselves, and Cortez Sims's exuberant three-piece band. Together they generate enough joyful noise and kinetic vigor to rock us all in the bosom of Abraham, whatever our faith. Black Ensemble Theater, Uptown Center Hull House, 4520 N. Beacon, 773-769-4451. Through October 24: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 4 PM. $25. --Mary Shen Barnidge
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ken Simmons.