Study Guide

How I Got Over Lyrics

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How I got over

Quick Thought

Since Mahalia Jackson made Clara Ward's song famous by singing it around the world, the title line has inspired several other works of art, including a recent album by the Roots.

Deep Thought

The Roots' 2010 album takes its name from the hip hop band's original song, "How I Got Over," about surviving street life as a young Black man. It's no gospel tune, but this mildly hopeful song shares one thing with Mahalia Jackson: faith in God, mentioned several times in the lyrics. It goes without saying that Jackson served as inspiration for this one.

An earlier, more obscure opus inspired by Jackson is a book of poetry by the late Black Arts poet Carolyn Rodgers. Her book How I Got Ovah was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1976. The book told of "her rejection of the revolutionary she once was and the blanket fury that accompanied much of the black power rhetoric of the '60s. In its place was an embrace of churchliness and spirituality, though not without a vivid sensuousness, as though she had found in Christianity the acceptance of her womanhood that the movement denied." (Source)

Jackson's own merging of revolutionary civil rights activism with Christian faith likely inspired Rodgers, who struggled for the rest of her life to merge her own disconnect between the two.

Then I'm gonna thank God for 'ole time religion

Quick Thought

"Ole time religion" was an important part of Jackson's own faith—and, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame put it, "no sacred-to-secular transformation would mark her career as it did so many others" (source).

Deep Thought

Jackson was deeply religious, raised in a Baptist church to believe in strict Baptist morals such as opposition to gambling, drinking, and premarital sex. As a young woman, Jackson's family never so much as entered a barroom. Although when Jackson's songs first began to be played on jukeboxes, it was such a thrill that several family members made an exception, including Jackson herself. 

In any case, because of her attachment to old time religion and the gospel music she had been raised with, Jackson refused to sing the blues or jazz and never gave a show in a barroom. She once said that singing the blues was impossible for her because she could never be satisfied by it. 

"It's like a man that drinks, and when he gets through being drunk he's still got his trouble" (source, 42), she explained. She stuck to pure gospel, more satisfied by singing the same songs over again in a church than by doing new songs in a recording studio or even at Carnegie Hall—when she was first invited to sing there, she said no and had to be convinced.

In that new Jerusalem, I'm gonna walk the streets of gold

Quick Thought

Talk of the "new Jerusalem" is common in gospel and hymnals—but Jackson had a special connection to the Christian Holy Land.

Deep Thought

One of Jackson's lifelong dreams was to visit Jerusalem. After a last minute change of plans in 1952 (she got sick during her first European tour), the dream was achieved in 1961 when she traveled across Europe again, performing in communist Germany and in front of the Pope in Rome before boarding a ship across the Mediterranean. 

Jackson saw Bethlehem, Gethsemane, and Old Jerusalem. When she got to Calvary, the place where Jesus was crucified, she reportedly whispered to herself, "My dreams have come true" (source, 95).

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