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The SS United States Diary of Gospel Singer Mahalia Jackson

American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was among the great number of famous personalities who crossed the Atlantic aboard the SS United States. Although she almost always suffered from seasickness, sailing on the ocean was one of the things she most loved to do. In an excerpt from her personal diary, written aboard the ship between March 30th and April 4th, 1961, Miss Jackson described her journey this way:

"New York, March 30: We took a cab to the United States Lines pier on W. 46th Street to board the SS United States. Loads of friends gathered to see me off. Everything was most exciting, with photographers from New York papers snapping pictures. I was dead tired and soon as the boat pulled out I was in my room and in bed."

Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson aboard the SS United States, 1961. Credit: Bettmann/CORBIS.

Jackson's journal continued:

"SS United States, April 1: After sleeping for two days I came out of my stateroom through the insistence of musical director Meyer Davis who kept calling to me to attend a party for comedian Jackie Gleason. So finally I pulled myself out of bed and mingled with the guests, but within an hour I was back in my room looking out through the window at the beautiful water. I never knew water had such a drawing power on me. It was quite interesting to see the different forms and shapes the water would take, the different waves and colours; the different moods and sounds."

The next day, on April 2, which was Easter Sunday, Ms. Jackson sang aboard “Were You There When They Crucified Our Lord” for the Protestant Service. Two days later, the Big U arrived at Southampton where reporters and interviewers came aboard to interview her, prior to the triumphant concert that took place at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson aboard the SS United States, 1964. Credit: Bettmann/CORBIS.


The SS United States has been a cultural icon since her maiden voyage in 1952. Today, she continues to inspire authors, artists and musicians around the country.

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