The Laurraine Goreau Interviews & Recordings and The Lynn Abbott interviews are now digitized

The personal stories of famous musicians, politicians, industry executives, and community leaders about renowned “Queen of Gospel” Mahalia Jackson are now available online thanks to funding provided by a 2019 Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The Laurraine Goreau Interviews and Recordings feature Mahalia Jackson, her family members, and others who worked with and knew Jackson, including entertainers Ella Fitzgerald, John Hammond, Della Reese, and Dinah Shore; Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) co-founder Reverend Ralph Abernathy; television host Ed Sullivan; gospel stars J. Robert Bradley, Thomas A. Dorsey, Sallie Martin, and Albertina Walker; and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Turkel. These interviews were conducted by Jackson’s biographer and New Orleans States-Item journalist Laurraine Goreau as part of her research for her 1975 authorized biography of Jackson, Just Mahalia, Baby: The Mahalia Jackson Story.

“I’m astounded by the range of interview subjects and topics that Goreau covered. There are even live music excerpts that she captured, such as Mahalia Jackson singing impromptu acapella verses of ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’ at a 1971 press conference in Tokyo,” says Melissa A. Weber, Curator of the Hogan Archive of New Orleans Music and New Orleans Jazz. 

CLIR funding also enabled digitization of interviews conducted in the 1980s by historian Lynn Abbott for his 2013 book, To Do This, You Must Know How: Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Quartet Tradition, co-authored by Doug Seroff. The Lynn Abbott interviews feature Black gospel quartet singers and practitioners in the South who both predated and enabled Jackson’s international success. This includes gospel performers such as Mary Thames Coleman, Reverend Paul Exkano, and Bessie Griffin; and New Orleans blues and rhythm & blues artists such as Chuck Carbo and Snooks Eaglin.

“Knowing that people around the world now have access to these recordings, many of which have not been heard for decades, is very exciting,” says, Jillian Cuellar, director of Tulane University Special Collections. “Hearing intimate recollections of Jackson and her musical antecedents firsthand personalizes history for the listener, giving them the opportunity to interpret these stories without mediation.”

For more information about these collections, contact Melissa A. Weber, Curator of the Hogan Archive of New Orleans Music and New Orleans Jazz, at mweber3@tulane.edu or 504-247-1807. To learn more about Tulane University Special Collections, visit the TUSC website at library.tulane.edu/tusc, contact them at specialcollections@tulane.edu, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Mahalia Jackson singing, accompanied by Thomas A. Dorsey on piano, circa 1960, Laurraine Goreau collection, LGPH0155, Tulane University Special Collections, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA.