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Speaking to the World

James  McBride

James McBride

New York Times Best-Selling Author & Musician


James McBride is a renaissance man and a born storyteller. He is the author of The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, a moving narrative about his mother, a white Jewish woman from Poland who married a black man, founded a Baptist church and put 12 children through college. Read More >

The Color of Water is an American classic, read in colleges and high schools nationwide. It has sold more than two million copies and spent two years on The New York Times Bestseller List. McBride’s second book, Miracle at St. Anna, is now a Touchstone/Disney film that he wrote the script for and was directed by American film icon Spike Lee. McBride co-wrote the film Red Hook Summer with Lee, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. A coming-of-age story about a young black boy, the film probes issues of race, neighborhood gentrification, impotent police, and the ravaging effects of drugs and gang violence on the African American community, to name a few.

His book, Song Yet Sung, is a national bestseller, the 2009 choice of “One Book/One Maryland” and is being adapted into a miniseries on FX. In his latest novel, The Good Lord Bird, McBride tells the story of a young boy born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade—and who must pass as a girl to survive. The Good Lord Bird went on to win the National Book Award for Fiction in 2013, a prestigious honor amongst authors, and will be turned into a major motion picture starring Liev Schreiber and Jaden Smith.

McBride’s book, Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown, is an authorized biography of James Brown, embarking on a search that leads from America’s South to England to New York. The book uncovers the saga of Brown’s childhood, including a never-before-revealed story of Brown’s sharecropper family who were uprooted by America’s largest nuclear bomb-making facility. 

A graduate of Oberlin College and the Columbia School of Journalism, McBride has written for The Boston Globe, People and The Washington Post. Also an award-winning composer and saxophonist, McBride has penned songs (music and lyrics) for Anita Baker, Grover Washington Jr. and Gary Burton, as well as for the PBS character “Barney.”

His newest book is a collection of never-before-seen stories titled Five-Carat Soul. Described by the New York Times Book Review as "McBride at his brave and joyous best," this is his first book since he won the National Book Award for The Good Lord Bird. It explores themes of identity construction, humanity, and history through McBride's trademark humor and poignancy.

In his keynotes, McBride touches upon life’s rich lessons, exploring the nature of identity, race and heritage. He often appears with his own jazz ensemble, using music to inspire audiences and lift his colorful, often humorous stories to another level. He is an inspiring speaker, always delighted to meet students, non-judgmental, non-confrontational, speaking to the common good that unites us all. It is his mantra. “All of my work speaks to the commonality of the human experience,” he says. “That’s where I live, to move audiences to think, to question, and to find common ground." Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

The Good Lord Bird

The Story of James McBride

James McBride and the Good Lord Bird Band

James McBride Presentation

That’s the America I Live in

This is a Nation of Immigrants

The Truth is in the Music

Speech Topics

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 and identity, and appreciate the differences of those around them. Read More >

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 the most important? McBride uses his experience of having grown up in an ethnically mixed environment to teach audiences to be kind, be a learner, and be a self starter. Read Less ^

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 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. Read More >

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. Read Less ^

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.

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