Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia (2021 Lifetime)

Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia (2021 Lifetime)

Cast:  Danielle BrooksOlivia WashingtonBenjamin Charles Watson

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Synopsis (via Lifetime)

Born in New Orleans, Mahalia began singing at an early age and went on to become one of the most revered gospel figures in U.S. history, melding her music with the civil rights movement. Her recording of the song “Move on Up a Little Higher” sold millions of copies, skyrocketing her to international fame and gave her the opportunity to perform at diverse settings, including in front of a racially integrated audience at the prestigious Carnegie Hall and at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball. An active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, Jackson sang at numerous rallies, including the March on Washington in 1963 alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in hopes that her music would encourage and inspire racial equality. From Rock’n Robin Productions and Lincoln Square Productions, Mahalia is executive produced by Robin Roberts and Linda Berman.


The movie begins in the 1920s in the south. A young Mahalia sings and draws a crowd outside her house. Much to the disappointment of her Auntie, who won’t let her get baptized until she can sing correctly.

In Chicago, Mahalia sings in a church choir and cleans houses to make money. Mahalia is kicked out of the choir for singing too unrefined. The pastor says she is blasphemous and sounds like a club singer. Estelle, the accompanist, recommends a music professor to help Mahalia sing in a more appropriate way for the non-south crowd. That doesn’t go well, and the professor calls her a “disgrace to the negro race.”

Estelle agrees to help Mahalia sing gospel songs the way she wants to in a small church. It goes well, and Mahalia finds it harder to balance her singing aspirations and her husband’s Ikes asperation. Ike books Mahalia an audition for a nightclub act, and she sings “Motherless Child.” She leaves the director literally speechless. Mahalia gets the part and takes in a young boy named John, who is an orphan. She gives him peppermint pickles???? Ike disapproves, and they separate.

Eight years later, Mahalia owns a hair shop and raises John. She still performs and travels with a young new piano player, Mildred, who is well versed in improvising with Mahalia.

Mahalia, John, and Mildred head out on tour to the small churches down south. She is a hit and even inspires a man to walk. Mahalia credits God who comes through her. She gets a record deal and negotiates for herself because she is not only a singer, she is a businesswoman. A man named Rev Russell who is interested in being her manager and maybe more. 

The record is a hit, and Mahalia gets offered a show at Carnegie Hall. She worries that she is not high class enough for a gig like that. Rev Russell tells her to inspire faith in herself as she does in others, which is sweet. 

At Carnegie Hall, Mildrid’s hands are in bad shape, and she almost isn’t able to accompany Mahalia on stage. Mildrid soaks her hands in scalding hot water to try and loosen her joints. The performance goes off seamlessly. The celebration is cut short, and Mahalia is rushed out of the theater in immense pain. Mahalia doesn’t want to go to the doctor because she had a bad experience with doctors in the past. They gave her a hysterectomy for Sarcoidosis. (Which mostly affects the lungs lymph nod glands.) So removing her reproductive organs seems excessive. 

1954- Mahalia has moved into a new house and is asked to sing at a Dr. Martin Luther King rally. Mahalia and Mildred meet with Dr. King to discuss the performance, which will happen after her world tour. She is not only hugely popular, but she is also critically lauded. 

Rev Russel comes down with bone cancer and suddenly dies. Mahalia cares for him until his last breath and mourns the loss of her dream of raising a family with the man she loves.

The movie then shows actual footage of black people’s horrors during the civil rights era as Mahalia sings. Then we see the movie Mahalia singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She encourages Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to tell the crowd about the dream. He gives the famous “I Have a Dream” speech. 

Mahalia throws herself into work and pushes Mildrid to rehearse more and more. Mildrid has resorted to drinking to numb the pain in her hands. The partners get into a huge argument and break up the band. Since they are best friends, it is very difficult for both of them to separate. 

Dr. Martin Luther King spends time with Mahalia on New Year’s Eve. The relationship causes a rift in her marriage. He even asks her to sing his favorite song at his funeral should he go before her. When Dr. Martin Luther King is assassinated, she makes good on her promise. It is a powerful sequence and beautifully well done. 

Mahalia makes amends with Mildrid, who is suffering from debilitating arthritis. They go back to the small Chicago church where it all began and perform together as people on the street watch from the window.

Side Note

Minority Report: The cast features mostly Black actors. 

More on peppermint pickles here

Danielle Brooks will 100% be nominated for an Emmy for this role. She was (and always is) amazing. 

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Overall rating

🔪🔪🔪🔪🔪 (5 Knives or music notes.)

🍷🍷🍷 (3 glasses of wine required.)

*Photo Credit: © 2021 Lifetime® | A+E Networks®

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