James McBride brings literature and music to the Greenwich Library

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Mr. James McBride and Mr. Trevor Exter perform a duet. Morgan Johnson '17

New York Times Best-Selling author Mr. James McBride and The Good Lord Bird Gospel Band performed a collection of songs at the Greenwich Public Library yesterday February 28. Mr. McBride also read from and reflected on his novel The Good Lord Bird.
Mr. McBride grew up in Brooklyn, New York and attended The Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. He later graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree in Journalism in 1980.
Mr. McBride is of African-American and Jewish descent and focused his classic memoir The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother on his childhood experiences of questioning his identity. In the memoir, Mr. McBride describes his own youth as well as an early life account of his late Jewish-born mother, Ms. Ruth McBride Jordan.
“I wanted to find out who my mother truly was,” Mr. McBride said. “I was at a point in my life where I truly needed to figure that out.”

The Good Lord Bird Gospel Band play at the Greenwich Library February 28. Morgan Johnson '17
The Good Lord Bird Gospel Band play at the Greenwich Library February 28.
Morgan Johnson ’17

Another of Mr. McBride’s works is The Good Lord Bird, which the National Book Foundation awarded the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction, according to nationalbook.org. After its success, Mr. McBride named his contemporary gospel band after the novel and has been performing across the nation ever since.
“It was just a creative thing I thought would be fun to do,” Mr. McBride said. “It’s a different way of presenting the book that seemed fun and interesting.”
In addition to Mr. McBride, who plays the saxophone, members of the band include Mr. Show Tyme Brooks on the drums, Mr. Trevor Exter on the bass, Mr. Keith Robinson on the guitar, and Mr. Adam Faulk on the piano.
The quintet performed a variety of spiritual and jazz songs. The music included both instrumental and vocal renditions, as they performed songs such as “Standing in the Need of Prayer” and “Lay My Burdens Down.”
The event was a constituent of [email protected], a weekly series of authors who come to share their works and encourage others to become involved in literature and writing. Previous speakers have included Geraldine Brooks, Judy Blume, and Steve Forbes, according to greenwichlibrary.org.
As a part of the curriculum, Convent of the Sacred Heart’s junior American Literature class reads Mr. McBride’s memoir The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother over Christmas break. Twenty members of the Class of 2017 attended the event at Greenwich Library and appreciated seeing a previously-read author in person.
“Mr. McBride used a very innovative strategy to interconnect his book and love of music,” junior Lindsay Ofori said. “By reading parts of his book with gospel music in the background the audience was better able to understand the significance of these southern spirituals.”
Mr. McBride emphasized the importance of writers and musicians being able to change and expand their skill sets.
“You can’t stay in the same place,” Mr. McBride said. “Artists have to evolve. It’s a privilege to evolve into something else.”
He also stressed that adjusting and reworking pieces of literature and music is crucial for success.
“Rewriting is everything. That’s the key,” Mr. McBride said. “Very little of what I’ve done is the first draft.”
After having written best-selling books and achieving success through his band, Mr. McBride is satisfied with his accomplishments in both arts. 
“I’m living my dream,” Mr. McBride said. “What else do I need? There’s nothing else I want.”

-Morgan Johnson, Co-News Editor