Mahalia Jackson fuels Robin Roberts’ latest producing project



'Good Morning America' co-anchor furnishes another Lifetime movie

Danielle Brooks stars in “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia” Saturday on Lifetime.

More than a year after its first “Robin Roberts Presents” project debuted, the second is arriving.

The ABC “Good Morning America” co-host is deliberate in choosing subjects for the Lifetime movies she’s executive-producing, and a legendary gospel singer and civil-rights activist is the latest. Premiering Saturday, April 3, “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia” stars Tony nominee and Grammy winner (both for “The Color Purple”) Danielle Brooks as the iconic Mahalia Jackson, who hoped her fame from her vocal talent would help her advance her social causes. Tony winner Kenny Leon (“A Raisin in the Sun”) directed the film, also featuring Olivia Washington as Jackson’s piano-teacher friend.

Roberts initiated her Lifetime movie deal with “Stolen by My Mother: The Kamiyah Mobley Story.” She says waiting to make the next picture was necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic and by finding the right lead actress. “That’s somebody I grew up with,” Roberts reflects of Jackson. “I remember that iconic black and white picture of Mahalia looking up. We had an old record player, and she was always on it. And when Kenny said, ‘Danielle Brooks’ … I get chills all over again just thinking about it.”

Danielle Brooks (left) and Olivia Washington star in “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia” Saturday on Lifetime.

“Orange Is the New Black” alum Brooks recalls that when she appeared in “The Color Purple” on Broadway, “I had the privilege of working with Jennifer Hudson, and I remember her coming to my dressing room and we would chat and she would say, ‘You should play Mahalia Jackson.’ And I said, ‘OK.’ I didn’t think too hard about it.  But then, when Jennifer Holliday came and stepped into that same (‘Color Purple’ role), she said the same thing. And I was like, ‘What? Maybe this is a sign.’ ”

Maintaining that she feels a deep kinship,with Jackson, who died in 1972, Brooks (born in 1989) explains that she “also grew up in the church, and I also had to lean on God when I felt like I couldn’t do things. And this was definitely one of those moments, where I didn’t know how the story was going to get told, but I had to trust what was told to me in my spirit. And what was given to me was that I was supposed to play Mahalia Jackson.”

More “Robin Roberts Presents” offerings are planned by the morning-show personality (who also made a recent History documentary about the Tuskegee Airmen, who included her father). “We have others in the works, but I do have a daytime job that kind of keeps (me) busy with everything that’s going on in the world right now,” Roberts notes. “So, I’m very pleased with how we’re going about it and the content that we are making available to people right now.”


Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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