Bill Duke to direct, EP the “Mahalia Jackson” movie

Bill Duke

Actor / director Bill Duke has signed to direct and executive produce “The Mahalia Jackson Story,” a music biopic of the woman who rose from her scrubwoman’s knees to become the world’s greatest gospel singer. 

“Getting her story to the screen has been a passion project of mine for many years,” said Duke, who has more than 60 features, TV shows and TVmovies to his credit.

“The Mahalia Jackson Story” was written by Ruth L Ratny, based on Jackson’s seminal biography and augmented by personal stories revealed for the first time by her former accompanists, friends, relatives and pastors.

Twenty of Mahalia’s classic songs are included in the story.  They include “Move on Up,” the best-selling gospel song of all times; “I’m on my Way,” the song she sang at Carnegie Hall where, at age 38, she became “an overnight success,” and Thomas Dorsey’s “Precious Lord,” which Mahalia, as Dorsey’s song-plugger introduced in Detroit in 1940.

“When she sings ‘How I Got Over,’ it helps us all to believe that we can get over, too,” says Duke.

“The Mahalia Jackson Story” will be filmed in Chicago, Jackson’s home of 45 years since the wintery day she arrived at age 16 on the segregated “Chickenbone Express” railroad car from New Orleans, to live with an aunt.

Mahalia Jackson“Mahalia Jackson was a very active citizen of Chicago who helped make the city the Gospel Capital of the World,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a letter of support for the film.  Chicago is considered the birthplace of gospel and its annual Gospel Festival is the largest in the world.

In addition to the mayor, the movie has the expressed support of legislators, business, civic and clerical leaders, and the Chicago film industry.  It will be filmed at Cinespace Studios where Fox’ top-rated “Empire” and NBC Universal’s “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago PD” are shot.

 “Mahalia” also has been a longtime passion project for Ratny, named the Chicago Legend by the Hugo Awards for her lifetime Chicago film career and contributions to the local film industry.  She is the editor/ publisher of trade publication,