Lifetime continues its streak of biopics with Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia, which premieres April 3 at 8 p.m. ET. Orange Is The New Black alum Danielle Brooks stars as Mahalia Jackson, who is one of the most revered gospel figures in U.S. history. The film, executive produced by Robin Roberts, chronicles Mahalia’s rise to fame and her impact on the music industry and the civil rights movement.
Mahalia lived an incredible life and had so many memorable moments. Decades after her death, her legacy remains more vibrant than ever. Get to know Mahalia before the Lifetime movie airs.
Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, is not the only contestant on the new season of “Dancing With the Stars” with a special kind of celebrity wattage.
Wilson, a founding member of the Supremes, is also a competitor — at
age 75. Viewers should get ready for liberal lashings of old-school
dazzle and a sense of déjà vu. There is barely a black female pop act —
Destiny’s Child, Janet Jackson, Janelle Monáe, Solange Knowles — (let
alone a white one) that hasn’t taken a page from the Supremes look book.
“Millennials love our style,” Ms. Wilson said during a recent interview in London. For anyone wondering why this younger generation has joined older fans of the group’s look, a new book, “Supreme Glamour,” out just in time for the show, makes it all clear. The volume chronicles how the Supremes in their original incarnation (Diana Ross, Ms. Wilson and Florence Ballard) and in their later form as Diana Ross and the Supremes (or DRATS) became agents of cultural change in the 1960s, breaking the race ceiling by weaponizing fashion and defining the way many women — black women, white women — wanted to look. It has photographs of mannequins in 13 of their designs, plus dozens of concert snaps, promotional portraits and album and magazine covers. It is replete with seed pearls and mushroom pleats.
Before the Supremes, as Harold Kramer,
the former curatorial director of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in
Cleveland, notes in the book, no black act “had ever set out to utilize
visual signifiers that made them palatable to a white audience.”
Wilson agreed. “Our glamour changed things,” she said. She was wearing
all black — leggings and a stretch top with cold-shoulder cutouts — and
one of her many wigs, a dead-straight chestnut number with full bangs.
“We were role models,” she continued. “What we wore mattered.”
Her claim is that she and her partners knew exactly what they were doing from the beginning.
Wilson said that when she, Ms. Ross and Ms. Ballard were signed to
Motown Records in 1961, they already had style. “They had a lot to work
with,” she said. “As Maxime Powell, who ran the label’s famous finishing
school, used to say: ‘You girls are diamonds in the rough. We are just
here to polish you.’”
Ms. Wilson remembered that one of the earliest Supremes dresses, with a fitted bodice and stiff balloon skirt, “Diana and I sewed from Butterick patterns.”
When the Supremes broke in 1964, black
singers like Lena Horne and Eartha Kitt performed in deliberately
seductive evening dresses, but they were older, solo artists. Ms. Wilson
and her colleagues were barely out of their teens and wielded the
visual power of three, often in grown-up second-skin gowns freighted
with beads and sequins.
maximized the look with increasingly baroque confections, some with
improbable wings and trompe l’oeil jewelry, like paste crystals sewn
into the neckline. Anyone who saw them live will recall the frisson
produced by such young women in such sophisticated designs. Then, just
when you thought you had them figured out, they turned up on “The Ed
Sullivan Show” in 1969 in fantastical, swishing ponchos and pants
seemingly made of dégradé tinsel.
Whoopi Goldberg, writing in the foreword of Ms. Wilson’s book, the
Supremes “were three of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. These
were brown women as they had never, ever been seen before on national television.”
Ms. Goldberg said she was encouraged to think that “I too could be
well-spoken, tall, majestic, an emissary of black folks” who, like the Supremes, “came from the projects.”
Oprah Winfrey had similar memories, as recounted in “Diana Ross: A Biography” by J. Randy Taraborrelli. “You never saw anything like it in the 1960s — three women of color who were totally empowered, creative, imaginative,” she is quoted as saying. As a 10-year-old black girl “to see the Supremes and know that it was possible to be like them, that black people could do THAT …”