The Rev. Gloria Jackson, 75, touring gospel singer

April 17, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Gloria Jackson, a Baltimore native who toured the nation singing gospel and helped the needy at home through her church, died of a massive heart attack Wednesday on the way to a prayer service. She was 75.

A singer since she was 5 years old, Ms. Jackson spent most of her life as a member of the Sensational Vashti Gospel Singers. She picked the name from the Book of Esther.

Ms. Jackson and her two sisters were founding members of the group when it formed in 1941 as the Vashti Chorus. In 1945, the members switched to gospel, and several years later she began managing the group.

"I could remember my mom saying there was always music in the home, always," said her daughter the Rev. Darlene Thurmond of Baltimore, who joined the Vashti group as a child. "Classical music, the blues, ballads. There was a wealth of music -- and gospel singing, because of her background in the church, was her favorite. She found that most soul-searching and inspiring."

Ms. Jackson, who graduated in the early 1940s from Douglass High School, was a self-taught musician with a striking soprano voice. When she sang, said Mrs. Thurmond, "there was an anointing" about the performance, a vocal laying on of hands.

"When she sang, people felt something," her daughter said.

As a Vashti singer, Ms. Jackson traveled with the five-member group up and down the East Coast, singing in Kentucky and near the Gulf of Mexico, and entertaining soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey through the USO.

In 1959, the group performed for a week at the famed Apollo Theater in New York City with many of the best gospel acts, from Sam Cooke to the Caravans.

Ms. Jackson remained a member of the Sensational Vashti Gospel Singers until her death. The group's favorite song -- and the one the singers have always been sure to perform -- is "I'm Just Holding On."

Ms. Jackson worked in food service much of her life, including 25 years at the Salvation Army Day Nursery and 12 years at Loyola College.

But she devoted her life to her congregation, New Life Mount Calvary Holy Temple Church on York Road, where she began working as a junior church pastor in 1960. Later, she became the assistant pastor.

Lillian Martin, a Baltimore resident and the only founding member still in the Sensational Vashti Gospel Singers, said Ms. Jackson was a stirring speaker who wove music into her sermons.

"Sometimes, before she'd [preach], she'd sing a song," Mrs. Martin said. "She had a beautiful voice."

At Mount Calvary, Ms. Jackson ministered to the youth, took care of children in the day care program and helped start the church's soup kitchen, which she managed until 1995, according to Mrs. Thurmond.

"She never wanted to see people without," her daughter said. "She wanted to do something that would help. Every day was just a giving day."

When she died, Ms. Jackson was riding a bus to Mount Calvary for a prayer service and Bible study.

"Her desire was, when the Lord came to get her, she wanted to be in service," Mrs. Thurmond said.

Ms. Jackson is preceded in death by a sister, Thelma Jack- son-Bailey. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a sister, the Rev. Emily Whye of Baltimore; another daughter, Hope Mason of Baltimore; a son, Clinton Blackwell of Baltimore; a grandson and granddaughter; and a great-granddaughter.

A musical tribute will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Mount Calvary, 4617 York Road. Services will be at the church at 11 a.m. Thursday, with the wake at 10: 30 a.m.

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