Black Jewish History Month: James McBride

Today in Black Jewish History Month, James McBride.

How are YOU Jewish: Matrilineal

James McBride is an American writer and musician whose compositions have been recorded by a variety of other musicians.

McBride’s father, the late Rev. Andrew D. McBride who died of lung cancer at age 45, was African-American, and his mother (Ruchel Dwajra Zylska later changed to Rachel Deborah Shilsky later changed to Ruth McBride Jordan) was a Jewish immigrant from Poland. He was raised in Brooklyn’s Red Hook housing projects, James was the last child Ruth had from her first marriage, and the eighth of 12 children and last child of Rev. Andrew McBride. “I’m proud of my Jewish history,” he has said. “Technically I guess you could say I’m Jewish since my mother was Jewish…but she converted (to Christianity). So the question is for theologians to answer. … I just get up in the morning happy to be living.” His book The Color of Water talks about his family history and his mother, who died on January 9, 2010.

Two of his older brothers, Dennis and Billy, graduated with doctorates in medicine, but that didn’t appeal to McBride. He got an undergraduate degree in music composition from Oberlin College in 1979. He received a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

McBride lives in New York. He is married, and has three children.

As a journalist, he was on the staffs of many well-known publications, including The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, the Wilmington (Delaware) News Journal, and People magazine. He has written pieces for Rolling Stone magazine, Us magazine, the Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Essence, The New York Times, and others. Mr. McBride is a charter member of the Clint Harding Network, a group of well-known journalists, writers and musicians who periodically have appeared live on a Missouri radio program for the last two decades.

He is the tenor saxophonist in the Rock Bottom Remainders, the composer-performer of the Clint Harding Network’s theme musicand has written songs for Anita Baker, Grover Washington Jr., Pura Fé, and Gary Burton.

McBride was awarded the 1997 American Music Festival’s Stephen Sondheim Award, the 1996 American Arts and Letters Richard Rodgers Award, and the 1996 ASCAP Richard Rodgers Horizons Award.

McBride is best-known for his 1996 memoir, the bestselling The Color of Water, which describes his life growing up in a large, poor African American family led by a white, religious, and strict Jewish mother, whose father was an Orthodox rabbi, but converted and became devoutly Christian during her first marriage to Andrew McBride.

“I thought it would be received well in the black community but it’s sold much better in the white Jewish community,” he said. “Most of my readers are middle-age, white, Jewish women….”

The memoir spent over two years on The New York Times bestseller list, and now appears on high school and university course lists across America.

In 2003, he published a novel, Miracle at St. Anna, drawing on the history of the overwhelmingly African American 92nd Infantry Division in the Italian campaign from mid-1944 to April 1945. The book was adapted into the movie Miracle at St. Anna, directed by Spike Lee, released on September 26, 2008.

In 2005, he published the first volume of The Process, a CD-based documentary about life as lived by low-profile jazz musicians.

In 2008, McBride uses the notorious criminal Patty Cannon as a villain in his novel Song Yet Sung.

This is Black Jewish History Month at Manishtana’s Musings.


Order Thoughts From A Unicorn: 100% Black. 100% Jewish. 0% Safe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s