Fresh off the success of The Clark Sisters biopic, Lifetime is preparing to release another film on a famous gospel legend. Danielle Brooks, of Orange is the Knew Black fame, is set to play gospel pioneer, Mahalia Jackson, in an upcoming film executive produced by journalist Robin Roberts, the network announced on Monday (Aug. 3).
The film, Robin Roberts Presents: The Mahalia Jackson Story, will be helmed by Tony Award-winning director, Kenny Leon, whose credits include the Lifetime remake of Steel Magnolias, featuring an all-Black cast. Brooks and Leon previously worked together on the stage production of Much Ado About Nothing.
Brooks starred as “Beatrice” in Much Ado About Nothing, and made her Broadway debut in The Color Purple, the latter of which earned her a Tony nomination.
“Having had the privilege of working with Kenny on ‘Steel Magnolias’ and Robin Roberts on ‘Stolen by my Mother,’ I am ecstatic to have them join forces to work together on this special project,” said Tanya Lopez, Lifetime’s EVP of Movies, Limited Series & Original Movie Acquisitions. “Adding Danielle Brooks as Mahalia is icing on the cake. This team is committed in celebrating the legacy of Mahalia and reintroducing her to a world that needs her spirit more than ever.”
A four-time Grammy award winner and Grammy Hall of Fame inductee, Jackson was born in New Orleans in 1911. She began singing at an early age and become one of the most revered gospel artists in history. Her 1947 recording of “Move On Up a Little Higher” sold eight million copies, and it wasn’t the only platinum-selling effort from the music icon. Jackson also broke multiple barriers, including becoming the first gospel act to perform at Carnegie Hall.
In addition to recording more than 30 albums over her career, Jackson was an active participant in the civil rights movement. She performed at the 1963 March on Washington, and hoped that her music would act as catalyst to “break down” racial division.
Jackson died from heart failure and complications brought on by diabetes in 1972 at the age of 60.