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How did Mahalia Jackson die? Devastating last days of 'Queen of Gospel' plagued by ill-health

Mahalia Jackson's ill health led to reduced public appearances in her later years
Mahalia Jackson passed away in 1972 after decades of ill health (Getty Images)
Mahalia Jackson passed away in 1972 after decades of ill health (Getty Images)

Mahalia Jackson passed away at a relatively young age of 60 on January 27, 1972. However, she made sure those 60 years were meaningful. It wasn't just her talent that won her legions of fans, but also her active participation in the Civil Rights Movement and her lifelong dedication to helping those less fortunate.

It was not surprising that Mahalia Jackson received a funeral like a few before. Approximately 50,000 mourners passed by her open glass casket to pay their respects, during a seven-hour timeframe. Many mourners stood in line for hours in the cold to say their goodbyes. Throughout the day, yellow school buses brought children to pay their respects. A choir consisting of 550 singers was joined by the 'Queen of Soul' Aretha Franklin, who sang 'Precious Lord, Take My Hand'.


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American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson passed away at just sixty years old (Getty Images)

President Nixon in a White House statement said, “America and the world, black people and all people, today mourn the passing of Mahalia Jackson. She was a noblewoman, an artist without peer, a magnetic ambassador of goodwill for the United States in other lands, an exemplary servant of her God. All her years she poured out her soul in songs and her heart in service to her people. Millions of ears will miss the sound of the great rich voice making a joyful noise unto the Lord,’ as she liked to call her work — yet her life story itself sings the Gospel message of freedom, and will not cease to do so.”

How did she die?

While Mahalia Jackson ultimately passed away from heart disease, the years before Mahalia's death were also unfortunately filled with ill health. Exhaustion forced Jackson to cut short a 1952 European tour, and she had a heart attack in 1964 after which she had to be hospitalized intermittently for heart trouble. During a 1971 European tour, Jackson suffered severe chest pains, and a US military aircraft flew her to Chicago. After her doctors warned her of the exhaustion being brought on by her demanding itineraries, Mahalia Jackson made fewer public appearances in the last five years of her life. Her last performance was in 1971 in Munich Germany.

Mahalia Jackson was twice divorced and had no children and no survivors to speak of. But what she left behind was far more impactful, a world that was no doubt a better place for her having lived in it, not just because of her inspiring voice, but of her inspiring moral code.

Mahalia Jackson was buried along with her Bible which she believed contained the only rules she needed to live by. She was buried in Providence Memorial Park and Mausoleum in Metairie. 


To find out more about Mahalia Jackson's incredible life you can catch 'Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia' on Lifetime on April 3 at 8 PM. Catch the trailer below.