Lavenia Nesmith has been portraying the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson for many years to rave reviews. On February 24, 2019 Nesmith returned to the Other Barn in Columbia, MD with her one-woman show, “A Tribute to Mahalia Jackson.”
The show was sold-out, with attendees lining up early to get into the dinner theatre to watch Nesmith pay homage to one of gospel’s most legendary singers. A bus brought more than 20 people from Solomons Island.
“This is my fourth time seeing the tribute to Mahalia Jackson by Lavenia Nesmith. It’s an awesome tribute and she does such a wonderful job portraying Mahalia from beginning to end. Each time it evolves. You think it can’t get any better, and it does,” said Francine Clark who came on the bus.
When Nesmith took to the stage, looking very regal in all white, she told the audience, “I don’t look like Mahalia; I don’t sing like Mahalia,” but promised the audience she would convey Mahalia’s story. However, Nesmith brilliantly transforms herself into Mahalia as she sings a cacophony of songs made both famous and timeless by Jackson. One can’t help but feel that yes, indeed, she is Mahalia for this moment in time and each line uttered, each song sung carries with it the deep reverence Nesmith has for this role.
Nesmith was backed by a phenomenal three-piece band band comprised of stellar musicians Terron Whitehead on drums/Percussion, Harry Jackson, bass guitar and the accomplished and celebrated Stephen Key on piano. Steve Washington served as the evening’s narrator.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and his wife, Shani were in attendance. Executive Ball greeted the audience and shared how much he has enjoyed the one-woman show over the years and Nesmith’s performance.
Nesmith takes the audience deep into the world of Mahalia Jackson, from childhood to the world stage. It’s also a world that was steeped in bigotry and the fervent rise of the civil rights movement. Mahalia Jackson’s poignant connection to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is lovingly and hauntingly told through song. Also compelling is the narration of Mahalia’s life intoned by Steve Washington who shines in a haunting soliloquy about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Tribute to Mahalia Jackson is nothing short of amazing. The audience got to hear many of Jackson’s timeless hits, including “Move On Up A Little Higher,” the haunting, “Come Sunday,” “In the Upper Room,” “Just “A Closer Walk,” “Precious Lord” and many more.
Attending this one-woman show is a must-see. Mahalia Jackson is made vividly alive and well-portrayed by Nesmith. The energy behind the songs supported by the well-crafted story of the life of the Queen of Gospel is almost transcendent.
Dazzling, compelling, flawless, riveting! These are just some of the adjectives that come to mind when describing the show. There is just so much more that could be said about Nesmith’s soaring vocal delivery. The uplifting finale number, “Down by the Riverside” brought the audience to its feet for some foot-stomping and hand-clapping. The sold-out audiences throughout the years is a good indication that “A Tribute to Mahalia” seems destined to hit the national stage. Mahalia would have been proud!
Here are a few photos from the evening. Photo credit: L.A. Randall, Eye Photography.
©2019 Sarah Hearn, Positively Gospel, All Rights Reserved.