Heard on CultureShift

Deacon King Kong” Author James McBride on the Music That Changed His Life

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Image credit: Chia Messina

From the church to James Brown, listen to the music that inspired the author behind the New York Times bestselling memoir “The Color of Water.”

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James McBride's latest book "Deacon King Kong" was released earlier this year.Ryan Patrick Hooper
Ryan Patrick Hooper

James McBride’s latest book “Deacon King Kong” was released earlier this year.

It was a certain “hump and swing” that came through in gospel music that captivated James McBride, the author of “Deacon King Kong” (which is being turned into a television series) and the stunning James Brown biography “Kill ‘Em and Leave.” 

Real gospel music is seeped in both spirituality and the hypocrisy of the Black church. All of that boils down to the music that is just great.” — James McBride, author

McBride recalls the emotive music of the Davis Sisters — a Philly-based gospel group in the mid-1940s.

They were just hard swinging gospel,” says McBride, who highlights their song “Twelve Gates to the City” as a musical inspiration when he was young.

Today, McBride says the music coming out of the church isn’t as significant was it was back then.

The level of musicality that comes out of the church is probably not what it was in those years,” says McBride. “Real gospel music is seeped in both spirituality and the hypocrisy of the Black church. All of that boils down to the music that is just great. You learn how to swing. It’s the spirituality and the music. The real stuff — it’s rare, really hard to find it.”

A musician himself, jazz also influenced his musical palette. While his friends were heavy into rhythm and blues as a teenager, McBride had discovered the sounds of Freddie Hubbard — a trumpeter with a unique way of intermingling jazz and hard bop. 

Click the player above to hear the full “In The Groove” conversation with author James McBride.

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Ryan Patrick Hooper, Host, CultureShift

Ryan Patrick Hooper is the host and producer of CultureShift. As a longtime arts and culture reporter.

hooper@wdet.org Follow @HooperRadio

LaToya Cross, Producer, CultureShift

LaToya Cross is a Producer with CultureShift, where she produces in-depth content that spotlights creatives and individuals using their platform to examine, cultivate, shape and shift culture.

Latoya.cross@wdet.org Follow @ToizStory

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