Who were Mahalia Jackson's husbands? Here’s why marriages to Ike Hockenhull and Sigmund Galloway didn't work
Mahalia's second husband attempted to hit her twice, once breaking his own hand in the process
Mahalia Jackson used her talent to bring about racial harmony and spent her life sharing the fruits of her success with those less fortunate. It does seem tragically ironic that while she devoted her life to spreading kindness and compassion, she would not find enough of it in her personal life.
Mahalia Jackson's two marriages were rather short-lived and resulted in no children. Her first marriage was in 1935 to Isaac "Ike" Hockenhull, a chemist who impressed Mahalia with his manners and the attention he showered on her. Ike's mother shared over 200 formulas with the couple to help them make cosmetics, but it was not a successful enterprise, to say the least. The couple's lowest point, however, came when Ike was laid off from his job and the couple had less than a dollar between them. It was then that Ike pressured Mahalia to audition for a jazz retelling of 'The Swing Mikado', much against Jackson's will, who believed very strongly that her talent was only to praise God.
While she got the part, she later called the experience miserable as she was wracked by guilt for auditioning for a secular show. However, Jackson didn't have to go through with the job that she landed. When Ike informed her he also secured a job, she immediately rejected the role to his disbelief. She would go onto reject many more secular acts. She even turned down Louis Armstrong and Earl 'Fatha' Hines, when they offered her jobs singing with their bands.
She stood her ground
It was believed to be a combination of the pressure Ike placed on Mahalia to sing secular music, compounded by his gambling addiction that led to the end of their marriage after just five years. It wasn't just Jackson's first husband who would pressure her to sing secular music. It was a pressure she would face time and time again, including from her record company Decca Records who wanted her to record blues music.
But Jackson stood her ground, which she could afford to do since she created a Plan B of sorts to provide her with financial security. Using the money she had saved, she earned a beautician's license and bought a beauty salon. It was almost immediately successful and the center of gospel activity. While Mahalia was always surrounded by friends and fans as her career grew from strength to strength, reportedly she still felt lonely. It was this void that led to her relationship with her second husband Sigmond Galloway, a marriage that would turn out in many ways to be far worse than her first.
Jackson met Sigmond, a former musician in the construction business, through friends and despite her hectic schedule their romance blossomed. She completely surprised her friends and associates when she married Galloway in her living room in 1964. But there was no honeymoon period to this marriage. Just a few weeks after tying the knot, on the way back from a concert, Mahalia began coughing uncontrollably and had to be checked into the hospital. While the diagnosis shared with the public was heart strain and exhaustion, in private Jackson's doctors told her that she had had a heart attack and her chronic health condition sarcoidosis was now in her heart.
Jackson's recovery took a whole year which resulted in her losing 23 kgs and being constantly plagued with fatigue as well as other health complications. In sickness and health, however, was not a vow that Galloway lived up to. He was often absent during Jackson's convalescence and the few times he was present, would accuse her of making up her symptoms. They argued constantly over money and he even tried to control of her career by taking over managerial duties. However, the last straw came when Galloway attempted to strike Jackson twice. The second time being particularly violent.
Jackson ducked to get out of the way and Galloway ended up breaking his hand on a piece of furniture behind her. Jackson then announced her intention to divorce and the marriage dissolved. But Galloway was determined to embarrass Jackson and even requested a jury trial so that he could lay out all the details of their marital issues. When Galloway's infidelities were proven, the judge declined to award him any of Jackson's assets or properties.
Yes, Mahalia Jackson certainly had her share of heartbreak, but perhaps her biggest heartbreak came when she learned of the assassination of her close friend Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who she supported steadfastly through his career. However, in spite of great personal and physical pain, Mahalia Jackson ensured that she gave back, not just with her music. She built the Mahalia Jackson Foundation which eventually paid tuition for 50 college students, and a non-denominational temple for young people in Chicago to learn gospel music, a dream she had for over a decade.
You can learn more about Mahalia Jackson's incredible life, where she triumphed over pain and heartbreak to emerge as the 'Queen of Gospel'. You can catch the trailer below.
Catch 'Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia' on April 3, 8 pm ET/PT on Lifetime.