Only on Sundays: Mahalia Jackson’s Long Journey with Janis F. Kearney
The Cabildo
New Orleans
Event Date: Thursday, April 13, 2023

Join us from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. for an evening with Janis F. Kearney as she discusses her new book, Only on Sundays: Mahalia Jackson’s Long Journey (WOW Publishing, 2022). This program is sponsored by the Friends of the Cabildo as part of the Second Thursday Lecture Series. It is free and open to the public but registration is required. The program will take place on Zoom on Thursday, April 13, 2023, 6:00–7:30 p.m. CDT. Please register here!

About the Book

In Only on Sundays: Mahalia Jackson’s Long Journey, memoirist and presidential biographer Janis F. Kearney revisits the life and legacy of Mahalia Jackson, the New Orleans orphan who became America’s Queen of Gospel. Kearney chronicles the years between 1910 and 1972, beginning with the migration of Jackson’s maternal family, the Clarks, from the community of Legonier in Pointe Coupée Parish to New Orleans, joining thousands of other formerly enslaved people and their descendants from rural Louisiana and surrounding states.

Kearney’s biography paints a vivid portrait of life in New Orleans’s most impoverished neighborhoods and the Clark family’s struggles, including the loss of Charity, Mahalia’s mother, when Mahalia was just six years old, as well as Mahalia’s experience as a child laborer and her early encounters with music. Only on Sunday also offers glimpses into Jackson’s years in Chicago and the people in her new life. These included her two husbands, Ike Hockenhull and Minters Galloway, and her friendships with leaders such as Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson; civil rights icon Rosa Parks, Chicago’s perennial mayor Richard J. Daley, and celebrities such as Harry Belafonte, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, James Baldwin, Sidney Poitier, Reverend C. L. Franklin and his young daughter, Aretha, and many others who made cameo appearances in her life.

Kearney’s book attempts to answer the question of how young Mahalia’s past defined her future. The book opens with an exploration of Mahalia’s early years as a disabled orphan who, in spite of her limitations, loved playing baseball with boys on Saturday evenings and standing in front of the congregation singing grown folks’ gospel on Sunday mornings. It then considers the tall, exotically beautiful teenager who became part of the Great Migration in 1927. What inner qualities propelled Mahalia forward, transforming her into the Queen of Gospel?

About the Author

Janis F. Kearney is an author, book publisher, writing instructor, and literary coach. She was born to southeast Arkansas cotton sharecroppers, attended Gould public schools, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a BA in journalism. She served nine years as a project manager and public affairs director in Arkansas state government followed by a brief stint as managing editor of civil rights legend Daisy L. Gatson Bates’s historic Arkansas State Press newspaper before purchasing it and becoming its publisher upon Bates’s retirement in 1988. 

From 1993 to 2001, Kearney served in the Clinton administration, working briefly in the White House media affairs office before President Clinton appointed her director of communications for the U.S. Small Business Administration. In 1995, Clinton selected her as the first-ever personal presidential diarist a role she filled through June 2001.

 In 2001, Kearney was selected as a fellow at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Studies at Harvard University. In 2003, she and her husband founded Writing Our World (WOW) Publishing, a small independent publishing company.  She has written or cowritten seventeen books, including the critically acclaimed Cotton Field of Dreams: A Memoir. Other WOW Publishing books include Something to Write Home About: Memories from a Presidential Diarist; Conversations: William Jefferson Clinton, from Hope to Harlem; Daisy:  Between a Rock and a Hard Place; Sundays with TJ: 100 Years of Memories on Varner Road, and Writing Our Lives: A Southern Storytellers Anthology, Volumes I-III, a compilation of short memoirs contributed by southern writers.

In 2014, Kearney founded the Celebrate! Maya Project. Its mission is to promote the life and legacy of Dr. Maya Angelou through service to Arkansas’s communities and schools. She also founded the Read.Write.Share. writers conference, which organizes memoir-writing seminars, lectures, and workshops around the state. The Writers Weekend is held in Arkansas each year.