Fantasia Barrino To Play Mahalia Jackson?
The season three winner is slated to appear in a feature-film adaptation of the 1993 book Got to Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel, which recounts the life of the late American gospel singer, a civil rights activist who was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The CAA-repped Barrino, who’s biggest post-Idol gig to date was playing Celie in the Broadway version of The Color Purple, will portray Jackson on her journey from abject poverty in New Orleans to her rise as a global figure in gospel and early supporter of Martin Luther King, Jr. The singer died in 1972 at the age of 60.
The 26-year-old performer also played herself in the 2006 Lifetime biopic Life Is Not a Fairy Tale: The Fantasia Barrino Story, which was based on her 2005 autobiography.
The film will be directed by Euzhan Palcy (A Dry White Season) from a script by Jim Evering, and goes into production in April in Pittsburgh and Chicago for a December release.
As far as I am concerned, if Barrino can pull it off, it would make one of the biggest comebacks in history. I mean, people doubted whether she would pull off The Color Purple on Broadway (she did, but she also got sick, and had to leave the production). However, I don’t quite see it. If she doesn’t pull it off, and she manages to outrage those who actually knew Mahalia Jackson, and what is left of the old guard gospel bunch, Barrino’ll never recover from the disgrace. Because the woman above, in my childhood New Orleans family, along with Louis Armstrong, was considered to be a near-god, because of that voice.
Mahalia was a woman who escaped New Orleans with her powerful voice and the Great Migration, but who never forgot her roots in the Black Pearl section of New Orleans. She had her start singing in the Baptist Church, at Mount Moriah; even at the age of 12, people could hear her voice at the end of the block. Singing became her education; she left school at the eighth grade. This woman felt everything in her music: her bad marriages, singing for a few cents at funerals and church recitals as a “fish and bread” singer, the disappointment when her early records did not sell, and her uncompromising stand not to threaten her god-given talent by singing secular music. When she died in 1972, she had two funerals, one in Chicago and one in New Orleans. Aretha Franklin, her natural successor, sang Precious Lord, Take My Hand at her funeral in Chicago.
How does someone like Fantasia become Mahalia Jackson? Sure, she has a voice, and facially and even hair-wise, she could resemble the late singer. (She might have to wear a fat suit as Mahalia became increasingly stout when she grew older.) She has had the hard life, including the bad relationships, but that is where it ends. Mahalia was very, very religious; her spirituality was evident even in her daily life. Despite her generosity, she could also be quite grasping, selfish and acquisitive; she did not want to go back to those hard times in New Orleans and in Chicago, and never did. She was distrustful with music promoters, convinced that they could gyp her, and drove a hard bargain with them. Furthermore, she could also be hard to work with, especially with unknown musicians or other singers who might upstage her. She was comfortable only with trusted friends and relatives.
Fantasia Barrino has got to radiate like that woman, in order for us to know and to remember the good and the bad of how Mahalia Jackson was. The how and the why. I can only hope that it works.