Introductions: James McBride & The Good Lord Bird Band

On November 9, James McBride and The Good Lord Bird Band kept our toes tapping, hands clapping, and hearts full when they performed at Town Hall Seattle. SAL Executive Director Ruth Dickey introduced the band that rousing evening.

If you had told me that I would read a funny book about slavery and John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry, I would have told you that you were absolutely crazy. But James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird is more than a funny book about slavery – it’s a fascinating take on history narrated by Little Onion, a runaway slave, Henry, passing as a girl. Onion’s voice is funny, irreverent, captivating, and surprising. It feels fresh and contemporary, and it illuminates abolitionist John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and even Frederick Douglas in unexpected ways.

James McBride’s writing career has illuminated many things in unexpected ways – from the Buffalo Soldiers of World War II, to slavery, to his own childhood, McBride’s gift for storytelling has brought life, humor and humanity to histories both universal and personal.

The incredibly talented McBride has won acclaim as both a writer and a musician. He is a professional jazz musician, having toured as a saxophonist and composed for renowned musicians like Anita Baker and Grover Washington. He also holds a masters in journalism from Columbia, and has written for the Washington Post, the New York Times, Essence, Rolling Stone, National Geographic and the Boston Globe. He is the author of four bestsellers, including his memoir The Color of Water (which was on the New York Times Bestseller list for over two years), Miracle at St. Anna, Song Yet Sung and The Good Lord Bird, which won the 2013 National Book Award. The New York Times has compared McBride to Mark Twain, calling The Good Lord Bird a “brilliant romp” of a novel that evokes “sheer glee with every page” and said, “McBride sanctifies by humanizing; a larger-than-life warrior lands – warts, absurdities and all – right here on earth.”

Indeed, at the very end of The Good Lord Bird, when Onion visits John Brown for the last time, Brown says to him, “Whatever you is, Onion, be it full. God is no respecter of persons.”

And I believe that this is the great gift McBride gives to his characters in each of his books, to his mother in The Color of Water, to his readers, to all of us. To truly see, warts and all. To honor and celebrate a world of unexpected humor, of characters capable of simultaneous heroism and cowardice, brutality and benevolence. A world where we might all hope to find courage. To be whatever we are. And to be it in full.

Tonight we are especially pleased that James McBride has brought with him The Good Lord Bird Band, comprised of Show Tyme Brooks on drums and vocals; Trevor Exter on bass and vocals; Adam Faulk on piano and vocals; Keith Robinson on guitar and vocals; and James McBride on saxophone and vocals.

–Ruth Dickey

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