james baldwin with halo

James Baldwin

Chapter & Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin

james baldwin with halo
James Baldwin

Songs, meditations, and chants to ease your mind.

Chapter and Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin is a 21st-century ritual tool kit for justice, shared in isolation, bridging communities around the world. Inspired by James Baldwin’s seminal treatise on justice in America, The Fire Next Time, the project was created by Meshell Ndegeocello during the time of two raging pandemics plaguing the United States—COVID-19 and racism.

Participants are invited to engage in a critical investigation of race, religion, sexual orientation, America and its status quo, celebrating Baldwin’s ideas and legacy through music, meditations, and visual imagery. The vernacular of a church service, structured rituals and worship, and other forms of sacred practice, inspire the gifts offered each month, free of charge.

Those interested can dial a toll-free telephone number, (833) 4-BALDWIN, (833-422-5394), any time, day or night, for inspiration or a deeper understanding of our daily struggles. Go online to thegospelofjamesbaldwin.com to see visual testimonies of Baldwin’s text, with original music created by Meshell and artistic collaborators, including Suné Woods, Nicholas Galanin, and Charlotte Brathwaite.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” ~ James Baldwin

Acclaimed musician, vocalist, and songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello was commissioned by the arts organization Harlem Stage to create a musical tribute to Harlem’s favorite son, James Baldwin. He describes his upbringing and career in the context of Baldwin’s.

“My parents were both born and raised in the South; my father enlisted in the Army, enabling him to travel. I believe this contributed to his bitterness upon having returned to the US. Living in Europe, the daily struggle of military service, taking care of a family—much like Rufus in Baldwin’s Another Country—he pined for a career as a jazz musician.

“My mother had a 4th-grade education and suffers from mental illness. She has had a challenging, painful life, mostly working as a domestic or home health aide to the elderly. I know very little about my mother. I do know she was old enough to remember sharecropping on tobacco farms. She also suffered from the patriarchy; my father would not allow her to have her own bank account.

“The world they raised me in was troubled, harsh, filled with anguish, judgment, physical and sexual abuse, along with disturbing ideas about race. Music, books, people, art and theatre, I believe with all my heart, saved me from madness and my harrowing adventures in Christianity, other religions, drugs and alcohol, and, as Baldwin put it, “my sexual career.”

“Baldwin writes in The Fire Next Time, ‘I did not intend to allow the white people of this country to tell me who I was and limit me that way, and polish me off that way’. I, too, did not allow my upbringing and experiences to “finish” me off that way. I’m grateful to those before me, beside me, and in front of me for safe passage in this realm. I try with all my heart to create work that allows others the freedom to think and create for themselves.

“Baldwin writes … ‘There seems to be no way whatsoever to remove this cloud that stood between them and the sun, between them and love and life and power, between them and whatever it was that they wanted.’

Baldwin gave me language for my brokenness, allowing healing and understanding to not only the personal but an account of how the systems at work made it hard for my parents even to begin to raise a resilient human ready to engage with life.”

Experience Chapter & Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin online at www.meshell.com/intro. New content will be released monthly through December 2020.

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