On Tuesday, Sept. 5, New York bestselling author and musician James McBride, along with his band, performed odes to his book “The Good Lord Bird” in USM’s Bennett Auditorium as the first of the Honors College’s university forums for the academic year.
Former journalist and 2013 National Book Award winner, McBride has written numerous other works, such as novels “Song Yet Sung” and “The Color of Water.” His book “The Good Lord Bird” is fiction based on fact about white abolitionist John Brown, who led a raid in Harper’s Ferry, VA in 1859. Told in the voice of a 10-year old slave boy kidnapped by Brown, the novel narrates the events before and after the raid at Harper’s Ferry and provides an insider’s view of Brown, his plans and his beliefs. The attack at Harper’s Ferry, according to McBride, is the same caliber as attacking the Pentagon today, making what Brown did more significant than if he would have raided somewhere else. McBride said the story of John Brown fascinated him because of the role that religion had on his racial views and on Brown’s belief that God wanted him to end slavery.
“In a story about the civil war regarding slaves, you expect it to be mostly from the slaves’ point of view, but [the book] took a twist when coming from John Brown,” said Amoy Cooper, a junior theatre major from Jamaica. “It is interesting to see how different it is coming from someone who wants to spread a movement regardless of what others like him are doing.”
McBride read excerpts of the book, and in between readings, he and his band performed gospel hymns that coincided with the message of the book and the spirituality of Brown.
“It reminded me of my childhood where my family would go to backyard bluegrass revivals,” said Leah Barton, a junior from Pontotoc, MS.
In light of recent national events, McBride also expressed his love and appreciation for the diversity of the audience, including the LGBTQ community and immigrants, while speaking of his book and the subject of race.
The Good Lord Bird Band consists of saxophone, piano, drums, bass, cello and guitar. The band sang blues and jazz versions of songs such as “He Walks with Me (In the Garden)” and “John Brown’s Body.”
“Each band member brought something unique and extraordinary to the mini-concert,” said Senior Helene Tavormina from Louisiana. “Each had a distinct personality, which I thoroughly enjoyed watching.”
McBride and the band concluded with their opening song, “Glory, Glory,” in which the audience joined in singing and clapping to the beat.
“…[The] forum was like no other I had experienced,” said Junior Advertising Major Sara Clitchens from Tutwiler, MS. “Just hearing the plot and some details from the book…I want to go and purchase the book and read it for myself.”
The Honors College hosts university forums on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. in the fall and spring semesters. The next forum will be “Undocumented,” featuring Princeton University Professor and Undocumented Immigrant Dan-el Padilla Peralta, on October 24 in Bennett Auditorium.