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James McBride        

New York Times Best-Selling Author & Musician

James McBride is an award-winning author, musician, and screenwriter. His landmark memoir, "The Color of Water," published in 1996, has sold millions of copies and spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list. Considered an American classic, it is read in schools and universities across the United States. His debut novel, "Miracle at St. Anna," was turned into a 2008 film by Oscar-winning writer and director Spike Lee, with a script written by McBride.

His 2013 novel, "The Good Lord Bird," about American abolitionist John Brown, won the National Book Award for Fiction and was adapted into a Showtime limited series starring Ethan Hawke. McBride has been a staff writer for The Boston Globe, People Magazine, and The Washington Post, and his work has appeared in Essence, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times. His 2007 National Geographic story “Hip Hop Planet” is considered an important examination of African American music and culture.

A noted musician and composer, McBride has toured as a saxophonist sideman with jazz legend Jimmy Scott, among other musicians. He has written songs for Anita Baker, Grover Washington Jr., Pura Fé, Gary Burton, and even for the PBS television character “Barney.” (He did not write the “I Love You” song for Barney, but he wishes he did.) He received the Stephen Sondheim Award and the Richard Rodgers Foundation Horizon Award for his musical Bobos, co-written with playwright Ed Shockley. His 2003 Riffin’ and Pontificatin’ musical tour was filmed for a nationally televised Comcast documentary. He has been featured on national radio and television in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. He often does his public readings accompanied by a band.

A native New Yorker and a graduate of New York City public schools, McBride studied composition at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and received his master’s degree at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. In 2015, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama “for humanizing the complexities of discussing race in America.” He holds several honorary doctorates and is currently a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University.

Speech Topics

Inspire to Live: A Lecture/Performance on Learning to Fail

The Liberal Arts Life: From Jazz to Journalism to Novel to Script

A "musical" lecture focusing on the importance of the liberal arts as learning tools for life.

The Good Lord Bird: Faith & American Slavery

In a brand-new program, James McBride shares the powerful story of John Brown, a white American abolitionist who in 1859--along with 19 others--attacked the largest arsenal of weapons in America, ultimately prompting the Civil War by terrorizing the South and galvanizing the abolitionists in the North.

In this presentation, which is based around his National Book Award winning novel, The Good Lord Bird, McBride shares the story of John Brown, using gospel and spiritual music of the time to frame his life and how it is presented in the book. Audiences will feel inspired and uplifted by the amazing music, the real-life story of a true American hero, and the powerful words of one of our greatest public speakers.

Improvisation, Teamwork & Following Your Instincts: Finding Success Through the Principles of Jazz

In this innovative program, best-selling author and professional musician James McBride shares how the basic principles of jazz - including being willing to improvise, working as a team, being creative, following your instincts, and thinking outside of the box - can be applied to the world of business for lasting results. He peppers his talk with funny and intriguing anecdotes, while illustrating his points with toe-tapping numbers performed along with a full band of career jazz artists.

The Color of Water: A Meditation on Identity

In this touching keynote speech, diversity speaker James McBride discusses the importance of learning to forgive one's past mistakes in order to press forward towards success, and the importance of failure as a successful tool for learning. McBride stresses that it is never too late to change. He uses examples from his own life and the lives of those he's come across in his wide experience to encourage young people to embrace their history, their identity, and appreciate the differences of those around them.

Who are you? A human? A student? An American citizen? You can be all of those things and more, but what part of those things is most important? McBride uses his experience of having growing up in an ethnically mixed environment to teach audiences to be kind, be a learner, and be a self starter.


James McBride Adapting 'Deacon King Kong' for TV
Global content company Sister will develop the series alongside the award-winning and best-selling author.
James McBride On The Kindness That Shaped Him: 'Emphasize ...
McBride's novel, Deacon King Kong, takes place in 1969, in a Brooklyn housing project similar to the one he grew up in. "In this book and in this community, ...

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