Mahalia Jackson was superior too. She was the best gospel singer in the world, tearing into every song as if her life depended on it, and everyone on earth knew her name. She was not conventionally pretty, but nobody cared. Back then, talent trumped looks. Back then fashion models were not deified; gifted people were.
I'm selectively excerpting and considering these thoughts because I was a teenager when I first heard and loved Mahalia Jackson's music. That was twenty years ago and I had college friends who knew her work and found Mariah Carey substantially wanting in everything in comparison. These days? I don't know how many people under 35 have any idea who Mahalia Jackson is. Music critics, sure, and some of those (like jokers at Rolling Stone) have in the last twenty years decided that somehow Mahalia Jackson was some kind of also-ran compared to Billy Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald, which is so unfair at multiple levels it was one of thousands of little reasons I stopped taking Rolling Stone seriously about anything by the time I was about, uh, 20.
I realize that there are generational touchstones. My generation, I hope, will not be the last one in which someone gets stoked on principle by just the idea of a recording of Duke Ellington's orchestra playing a jazz suite in which the climactive segment is a solo sung by Mahalia Jackson.