Photo by Sydney Cromwell.
Hoover resident Mary K. “Mimi” Jackson has spent her life composing and performing music. She is a trained vocalist and plays both the piano and the organ.
Hoover composer Mary K. “Mimi” Jackson does not remember the first time she sat in front of a piano. Her mother was a concert pianist and her father was a singer, so music has always been a part of her life.
“I really do not remember how early it was, I just remember there was a box under the piano for my feet so I wouldn’t swing them,” Jackson said.
Her music was more than just a pastime. Jackson studied vocal performance at Birmingham-Southern College and went on to study composition and conducting as a graduate student. Her decades-long music career has spanned a variety of jobs on several continents. Jackson has composed music for churches from Alabama to Singapore, accompanied the Alabama Symphony, worked as a chorus master for Opera Birmingham and had her compositions performed in the U.S. and in Europe.
“There’s really something wonderful about hearing people perform something you created. I suppose that’s really what creativity should be about,” Jackson said. “It’s gratifying to know that people appreciate what you do.”
Besides the international recognition, music has also played a very personal role in Jackson’s life and family. Her sister is a choir director, her brother is an internationally recognized opera singer and her youngest daughter teaches music at Florida State University. When the family gathers at Christmas, Jackson said they spend much of their time singing and making music together.
“It’s just been the tie that’s kept everything together, I suppose, in my life,” Jackson said.
Jackson draws inspiration for many of her compositions from the words she is trying to express through music. Other times, though, inspiration strikes her randomly and she will work all night to finish a piece. Jackson also said she frequently feels more creative now than in the early days of her career.
“I don’t know that any creative person can tell you where an idea necessarily comes from. Sometimes they’re just there and you don’t know why,” Jackson said. “Some people would call that a gift; I don’t know. I’m just thankful that it happens.”
Even after decades spent as a composer and musician, Jackson has no desire to slow down. She continues to work with Opera Birmingham and serves as a vice president on the Alabama Symphony Volunteer Council.
“I’m going to keep doing what I do for as long as I am capable,” Jackson said. “There’s no reason to quit.”
In May, Jackson released a new album called “Songs of Freedom, Justice and Peace,” which is a joint project with her brother, Steven Kimbrough. The songs are based on the poetry of slaves and famous African-American authors such as Langston Hughes, as well as the poetry of her uncle Edwin Kimbrough. Jackson also took some well-known proverbs and set them to music.
“It’s really some pretty powerful poetry,” Jackson said.
“Songs of Freedom, Justice and Peace” was released by Arabesque Records and is available on iTunes and Amazon.