By Gary A. Johnson, Black Men In America.com

Posted May 30, 2016

cooksey-lgCorvette Logo

Many of you were introduced to Wilmer “Wil” Cooksey, Jr., through my exclusive interview with him in 2003.  Mr. Cooksey was named manager of the world’s only Corvette plant in February of 1993.  As a lifelong fan of the car, it was a dream job come true.  Last year, Wilmer Cooksey, Jr. was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Mr. Cooksey received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Tennessee State University in 1965. He earned a Master’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Toledo in 1972 and completed post graduate work in mechanical engineering at Michigan State University.

A Distinguished Graduate of the Officer’s Training School, Cooksey served as an executive officer in the U.S. Army Artillery, 1st Lieutenant. His last assignment was a year in Vietnam. For his efforts while in Vietnam, he was awarded the bronze medal.

Mr. Cooksey’s General Motors career is the epitome of achievement beginning with his first job as an assistant professor in industrial engineering at GMI in Flint, Michigan to his current position.

Mr. Cooksey’s accomplishments are long and historic. In 1997 Cooksey received the “Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award.” Also in 1997, Austin Peay University named him “Achiever of the Year” in their Focus Program. He also received a Presidential Citation from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education in recognition of exemplary experience that honors Tennessee State University. Dollars & Sense Magazine honored Cooksey in their 1998 “Salute to America’s Best & Brightest Business and Professional Men and Women.” Cooksey is featured on the cover of African Americans on Wheels magazine as they named the Corvette the “Best Urban Car of the Year.” He has been honored as an Outstanding Graduate of Tennessee State and named a “Black Achiever in the Industry” by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Here is my original interview with Mr. Cooksey conducted in 2003.

Wilmer Cooksey, Jr. – The Man Behind The Corvette

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The Legend of Wilmer Cooksey:  The Man Behind The Corvette

Wil Cooksey - Corvette

Many of you were introduced to Wilmer “Wil” Cooksey, Jr., through our exclusive interview with him in 2003.  Mr. Cooksey was named manager of the world’s only Corvette plant in February of 1993.  As a lifelong fan of the car, it was a dream job come true.  Last year, Wilmer Cooksey, Jr. was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Mr. Cooksey received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Tennessee State University in 1965. He earned a Master’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Toledo in 1972 and completed post graduate work in mechanical engineering at Michigan State University.

A Distinguished Graduate of the Officer’s Training School, Cooksey served as an executive officer in the U.S. Army Artillery, 1st Lieutenant. His last assignment was a year in Vietnam. For his efforts while in Vietnam, he was awarded the bronze medal.

Mr. Cooksey’s General Motors career is the epitome of achievement beginning with his first job as an assistant professor in industrial engineering at GMI in Flint, Michigan to his current position.

Mr. Cooksey’s accomplishments are long and historic. In 1997 Cooksey received the “Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award.” Also in 1997, Austin Peay University named him “Achiever of the Year” in their Focus Program. He also received a Presidential Citation from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education in recognition of exemplary experience that honors Tennessee State University. Dollars & Sense Magazine honored Cooksey in their 1998 “Salute to America’s Best & Brightest Business and Professional Men and Women.” Cooksey is featured on the cover of African Americans on Wheels magazine as they named the Corvette the “Best Urban Car of the Year.” He has been honored as an Outstanding Graduate of Tennessee State and named a “Black Achiever in the Industry” by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Here is our original interview with Mr. Cooksey.  That interview was conducted by Gary A. Johnson in 2003.

Wilmer Cooksey, Jr.:  The Man Behind The Corvette

Wil-at-Desk_320x2441

BMIA.com:  How important of a factor was education in your accomplishments? 

Education has been critical to my success.  In the 1950’s and 60’s you couldn’t expect or dream about opportunities if you didn’t further your education.  The same holds true today.  Growing up I saw so many people who were not given the professional opportunities available because of a lack of education.  My mother taught my siblings as well as myself the importance of education.  In fact, all eight of us went to college.  An education is something no one can ever take away from you.

BMIA.com:  You’re involved in a lot of community service work.  Were you taught as a child to be a good citizen or is this something that you learned later in life in the work world?

Growing up in a lower-income, blue-collar family in Texas, we depended on services to help us out during certain times.  Even though my mom worked full-time in a hospital, money was very tight.  There were quite a few times when services would bring food or Christmas presents to the house for us kids.

Now I am in a position to return the favor and help others.  Supporting my community through the United Way and educational institutions, like Tennessee State University (TSU), are very important to our workplace and to me.

BMIA.com:  Who influenced you the most?

Wil Cooksey:  My mother always had her sights set on earning a college education.  However, she was burdened by taking care of our family and working full-time.  She took night courses and always kept trying.  She was absolutely delighted when I as well as my siblings earned our college degrees.  It was her focus and determination that influenced me the most growing up.

My wife, Dr. Elizabeth Cooksey, has also been a great influence in my life.  We met while we were in college at TSU.  It was with her guidance and example that I saw the importance of getting a great education as well as having a good social life.  She’s been a guiding light ever since.  This year we’ll celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.

BMIA.com:  What’s your position on Affirmative Action in the workplace? 

Wil Cooksey:  Affirmative Action is absolutely necessary.  I believe that organizations are aware of the importance of diversity.  However, many do not have the action steps behind it to support creating a diverse workforce.  Unfortunately, you are not going to get the right mix of people automatically.

In today’s competitive market it is very difficult to recruit the best and brightest.  It takes a good recruiting program to attract the talent and diversity that companies need to be successful.  It requires mentoring, training and hiring practices that bring in people who are going to continue to grow and challenge traditional thought.

BMIA.com:  Based on your experiences, how does someone fight racism and sexism in America? 

Wil Cooksey:  The most important way to fight racism or sexism is not to feed or perpetuate it.  You cannot win if you use racism to fight racism.  Every individual has to walk the talk and set the example of how you as an individual want to be treated.

Education is the key.  I believe that ignorance is the basis for most of the racism and sexism that we see in our society.  We will all have a greater understanding of one another if we support educational programs and opportunities for all different kinds of people.

BMIA.com:  What was your earliest or most vivid recollection of being “different?”

Wil Cooksey:  I never really realized that I was different until I started wanting to go to the movies with my friends.  Not only was I black and had to sit in the upper balcony but I was also tall.  In fact I was so tall for my age that I had to carry my birth certificate with me so the movie attendants would believe that I was 10 years old.  Otherwise, I would have had to pay more than 10 cents to see some of the greatest westerns ever made.

It is at that age that I realized the inequities between the races.  By working and being surrounded by all types of people, I quickly learned that if I was going to be successful you have to have a better understanding of all people.

BMIA.com:  What would you say has been your biggest success to date? (Personal and/or business).

Wil Cooksey:  My entire career I have focused on becoming the plant manager of the world’s greatest sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette.  The success that the car and the plant have had – winning more than 55 industry awards – in the past 5 years and launching the brand new Cadillac XLR means a great deal to me.  It has taken the teamwork and focus of everyone at Bowling Green Assembly.

Personally, my greatest success is being happily married to my wife for forty years.  We’ve been together through degrees, moves, wars, children and careers.  I am very proud of her and her accomplishments.  Most recently she earned her doctorate in secondary education.  It is with her unending support that I am most successful.

BMIA.com:  Did you have any mentors growing up?

Wil Cooksey:  When I first hired into General Motors your mentors were people you didn’t even know.  They worked behind the scenes making sure that you were given opportunities that you would traditionally be looked over for.  I began my career as a professor at GMI, now Kettering University, and teaching statistics.  However, my goal was to get back into production management and to become a plant manager. At that time GM’s Chairman of the Board was Dick Terrell.  It was as a faculty member that I met Mr. Terrell.  The board used to come and have lunches with the faculty quite frequently.  He took an interest in my career and helped me transition to a career in manufacturing where I eventually became a plant manager.  Little did I know that he was pushing my career from behind the scenes.

Now I serve as a mentor to many students at TSU and I can proudly look at the careers of employees who have grown up through my ranks.  It is my pleasure and greatest achievement to help mentor those who have ambition, talent and a drive to succeed.

BMIA.com:  What makes the Corvette so special?

Wil Cooksey:  There is no one thing that makes Corvettes so special.  I could talk about all the specific reasons for hours.

Corvettes have to be in your blood.  When I lived in Atlanta I decided that it would be for the best to sell my Corvettes since I had so many different interests.  It didn’t take long before a sense of loneliness and emptiness set in deep inside me.  Corvettes take a place in your life whether you are driving, washing or showing them.  Very quickly I went to Tom Juniper Chevrolet because I was having Corvette withdrawal.  He let me take a two-toned white and silver ’82 home right off the lot.  I was happy once again.  Since that day I have never been without a Corvette.

Basically Corvettes end up being members of your family.  It doesn’t matter the year or body style, they are all special.  You depend on them and they take car of you.

BMIA.com:   Under your leadership, Corvette has won a number of prestigious awards.  What did you do to re-establish the Vette and win these awards?

Wil Cooksey:  Bowling Green Assembly has been very successful due to entire team working together to achieve one common goal.  And, that is to be the best assembly plant in the world.  Our organization had to improve its productivity, performance and quality in order to be more competitive.  It took the partnership of the local UAW to take some bold steps and training of the entire workforce. We focused on safety and quality.

We also created enthusiasm by listening closely to our customers.  We started to use customer feedback from JD Power, Corvette shows and other mechanisms to solve quality problems.  It took teams of engineers, management and UAW members working together to get our quality where it is today.  We have learned that if you develop close relationships and listen to your customers you will be successful.

BMIA.com:  How important is diversity in today’s workplace?

Wil Cooksey:  Diversity is essential.  In fact it’s mandatory if you are going to be successful. Our customers are diverse just as the people would build our products are diverse.  Companies today will not meet the needs of their customer base if they don’t have the same diversity in the workplace.

There’s strength in diversity, which means there is more than one way to always look at something. As a leader, if you have a diverse organization there is a greater probability that you will make the best decisions for the entire workforce.

BMIA.com:   As you climbed the corporate ladder was it difficult to find a happy balance between work and family?

Wil Cooksey:  Unfortunately, you sacrifice a little bit of your time.  However, you have to take on the challenge to support your career as well as your family.  I didn’t get to go to all of my son’s track meets or my daughter’s band activities as they were growing up, but I did go to a majority of them.

It has helped that my wife is a professor and has a demanding schedule as well.  It is important that we both remain flexible and know one another’s schedule.

BMIA.com:  You are a trailblazer.  What advise would you give to someone who wanted to make a career in corporate America?

Wil Cooksey:  Here’s the advice that I would give any young professional wanting to make a career in corporate America:

–          It is important to have an excellent education.   Excel in your studies and take educational opportunities such as internships and work programs that will give you professional experience in your field.

–          As a student, make sure that you attract company representatives that can give you good advice and take on a mentorship role.  As a student or young professional, you are going to have to help navigating your career.

–          If you are going to be successful it is imperative that you have strong people skills.  Essentially, all people want to do the right thing. When entering a new organization you need to be part of the team and not come in a threatening manner.

–          Always show initiative.  Remember, it is deeds not words that get the job done.  You have to be known for getting the job done successfully.

–          Finally, no matter what the job is remember to always do your best.  Never let anyone see your displeasure with a certain job or let them see you sweat.  Go into each job to make the most of it.  If you always do your best, no one including yourself, will ever be able to question your integrity.

BMIA.com:  What’s next for Corvette?

Wil Cooksey:  We’re very excited about the future of Corvette both with the 2004 model and the upcoming C6.  It has been a great pleasure to be involved and contribute to three generations of Corvettes. 

BMIA.com:   What’s next for Wil Cooksey? 

Wil Cooksey:  It’s my goal to have a pleasant and enjoyable end of my career.  The most rewarding thing is to see the people’s lives that I’ve touched as they go on ahead and achieve great things.   There’s never a dull moment in my life.  I am always ready for the next challenge.

BMIA.com:  Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers that I didn’t ask? 

Wil Cooksey:  People are your greatest resource.  It’s amazing what you can achieve when everyone works together.  You’re greatest strength is those who surround and support you.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Click here to buy Wil’s book “No Time To Cry”

no-time-to-cry

Click here to read a book review of “No Time To Cry,” by Wilmer Cooksey, Jr.

 

Wilmer Cooksey, Jr. served as Corvette Plant Manager from February of 1993 until his retirement in March 2008. As the first African-American to earn the position and the man who held it the longest, he brought a life-long love of Corvette to the job. Believing in the phrase that “none of us are as smart as all of us,” he worked with the United Auto Workers Union and listened to customers to make the Corvette exceed the expectations of all who dreamed of having one someday.

Raising Him Alone:  An Interview with David Miller

By Vanessa Werts

Across America, in the inner-city and in suburbia, single mothers struggle with raising boys alone. This issue has clearly emerged as one of the most consequential trends facing society today. And David Miller, co-author of the book, Raising Him Alone, is on a personal mission, standing watch, doing his part to support single mothers – Black single mothers in particular – and the positive development of Black males.

During my interview with Miller at the 2010 National Congressional Black Caucus Book Pavilion, his passion was contagious. Miller’s vision is for the well being of everyone involved in the struggle from the son to the mother or caregiver to the absent-father alike. Therefore, it is only natural that he would be co-founder of the Raising Him Alone Campaign, a national movement that executes the foundational principles he and co-author Matthew P. Stevens address in their book [Raising Him Alone].

Single mother parenting was long thought to be primarily an African-American problem, stemming from poverty and poor education. However over the last decade, it has become an epidemic crossing both racial and class lines. “We started the campaign to really focus on Black and Latina moms,” says Miller. “But we get a tremendous amount of calls from White mothers. The issue is beyond an epidemic.”

Miller shared with me insights about the book, the campaign, and the community activities and resources dedicated to inspire and inform the millions of single mothers who struggle daily with the challenges of raising boys.

The David Miller Interview

BMIA: What is the Raising Him Alone campaign about?

D. Miller: The campaign is a movement to provide greater access to resources for single mothers and grandmothers throughout this country.

BMIA: Where does your passion for this movement or your connection to this issue come from?

D. Miller: When I was a freshman in college, my best friend was shot and killed standing next to me and I was 19-years-old. I was at Morgan, he was at Morehouse; some guys tried to rob us…they shot my friend in the back and he died in my arms. And since then I’ve dedicated my life to really improving the lives of children and families in this country. And so, I’m real clear that we’ve got to do this work in our communities, or else we’re not going to make it.

BMIA: When does the campaign kick-off?

D. Miller: The campaign kicked-off in January 2009. We did a major launch in two cities: Baltimore and Newark, New Jersey. I invited some dynamic mothers who’ve raised sons to come and help me kick it off. Common’s [rapper, actor] mother, Dr. Mahalia Hines; Mos Def’s [rapper, actor] mother, Sheron Smith; and Talib Kweli’s [rapper, activist] mother, Dr. Brenda Greene. I brought them on-board to help me launch the two cities, and now we’ve expanded to Chicago and Philadelphia. These are our four main cities. But we’re working in communities across this country really doing some very interesting viable Web-based things like using Facebook to create discussion groups with moms. We’re creating a tremendous movement around serious parenting.

BMIA: What has been the response to campaign?

D. Miller: The response has been absolutely overwhelming. We average about forty phone calls and E-mails a week from mothers who are in some of the roughest parts of say, maybe Memphis, DC, or Newark, New Jersey, to moms that have MBA degrees, PhD degrees from excellent colleges and universities, who got divorced and for whatever reason, dad hasn’t stepped up. And so it’s been an amazing cross-section of parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

BMIA: Have you in any way included fathers in the campaign?

D. Miller: Yes. Historically, my background is I’ve written two other books about responsible fatherhood. And so, year one was really to launch the campaign and raise money. Year two has really been focused on launching the largest responsible fatherhood Web site you’ll find in this country which we’re gonna try to connect it with President Obama’s Responsible Fatherhood Initiative. I was in Washington three weeks ago speaking to all of the federal grantees that received responsible fatherhood money. The Web site is going to be for any dad: married dads, divorced dads, military; dads that are incarcerated, to really talk about what does it mean to be an exceptional father. And so dads are an integral part of the campaign.

BMIA: What type of information can single mothers expect from the book, Raising Him Alone?

D. Miller: In the book, we kind of roll out a blueprint of how to raise a son, as well as things like mentoring. Susan Taylor has a national initiative; Michael Baisden has a national initiative on mentoring. The reality is in all those initiatives, we’ve not gotten enough black and brown men to sign up and honor their commitment. So one of the things we talk about is, while we’re trying to find a mentor for the boy, there’s things mom has to do in the home. For example, number one is the boy can never be the man of the house. That’s a mistake that I think mothers make, particularly as boys get to adolescence. Moms say you’re the man of the house because your father is not here.  And what happens with a lot of boys is they think because dad’s not here I need to step up and bring money in. So a lot of boys will start steeling cars, selling drugs… You start to see a lot of pathologies exist because mom has told this 13-year-old that he’s man of the house. So a lot of what we’re trying to do is really work with community-based organizations and work with schools. We’ve created an awesome learning community so mothers can go to our Web site, sign up and they can receive free text messages, free voicemail message about being a good parent…about financial literacy tips. We send out an e-mail blast that goes out to about 11,000 mothers and grandmothers across the country. We’ve created a Facebook group, Single Mothers Raising Boys, with over 1,000 mothers connected to that. The goal is also connecting mothers to resources, things like mental health; things like credit repair; a lot of stuff on co-parenting. I mean when you look at the divorce rates in our community, we’re in trouble. We’re in serious trouble.

BMIA: Have you had any testimonials on the impact of the work you’re doing?

D. Miller: We’ve had some amazing testimonials. I’ll start with Ms. Mildred, a 74-year-old great-grandmother living in the projects in the West Ward in Newark, raising five boys by herself… hypertension and diabetes. When we went to go interview Ms Mildred, we were able to stop her from getting evicted from her apartment. We were able to connect her to free mental health services for both herself and for those boys. Even though the boys are all under 12-years-old, you started to really see some behavioral challenges with those boys. We can document many of the families that we’ve reached as well as the dads that we’ve reached. And that’s one of the reasons why we decided to create the fatherhood Web site. We met a brother in Michigan whose children lived in Atlanta, Georgia and we were able to re-connect him with his children. Because he was a long distance dad, we were able to work with him and work with the mom to develop some strategies. One of the first things we did was recommend that the dad buy a cell phone and mail it to the boy so the boy could call his dad. But we had to go through the mom to help her work through her own issues because they didn’t get married to say, this is something that can happen. And so, even being able to work through something as simple as communication with the father and son is another example.

The Raising Him Alone Campaign seeks to create a larger community dialogue around the importance of supporting single mothers raising boys. Through partnerships with a host of organizations, they are mobilizing single mothers and absent-fathers to save our future, particularly our boys.

The siren is blaring. The call to engage the issues in raising healthy, positive boys demands our attention. What price will society ultimately play if this trend continues? The clock is ticking.

To learn more about Raising Him Alone, the book, and the work co-founders, David Miller and Matthew P. Stevens are doing with the Raising Him Alone Campaign, visit www.RaisingHimAlone.com.


BMIA.com Reporter Vanessa Werts and David Miller

David C. Miller, M.Ed. is the co-founder and Chief Visionary Officer of the Urban Leadership Institute, LLC, (www.urbanyouth.org) a social enterprise that focuses on developing positive youth development strategies. ULI provides strategic planning, professional development, positive youth development concepts and crisis management services.

Thank you Lee McDonald from The Renaissance Group (TRG) for making this interview possible.

Mildred Muhammad Speaks

Former Wife of DC Sniper Breaks Her Silence About Domestic Violence

By Gary Johnson, Founder/Publisher – Black Men In America.com

Mildred D. Muhammad is the ex-wife of John Allen Muhammad – the convicted and recently executed DC sniper who terrorized the Washington DC metropolitan area in late 2002.  After several years of silence, Mildred decided to speak openly about her day-to-day experiences as a survivor of domestic violence and how it affected her three children.

I had seen Mildred’s interviews on CNN and FOX News. Some of the questions appeared to be anything but “fair and balanced” and the interviews were short.  There wasn’t enough time for Mildred to adequately address the questions.

I decided to reach out to Mildred to give her an opportunity to tell her story uninterrupted.

Mildred agreed to an unscripted and unrehearsed interview.  I assigned this task to Janice Wilson and off we went to tape the interview at Mildred’s office a few weeks ago (December 2009).  We divided the interview into six parts.  Part One of the interview is listed below.

As you watch and listen to Mildred’s story you will learn that Mildred did not seek the limelight.  She was thrust into the spotlight because her former husband was John Allen Muhammad. Mildred new book, “Scared Silent,” details her her day-to-day experiences as a survivor of domestic violence and how it affected her three children.  A lot has been said about Mildred and why she wrote this book.  Mildred has dedicated her life to helping survivors of domestic violence and abuse.  I believe in telling her story, she is doing the work of others.  Don’t take my word for it, watch and listen for yourself.

Mildred Muhammad and Janice Wilson

Mildred has agreed to write a monthly column on surviving domestic violence and abuse.  You can read her column and buy her book on the main web site at www.blackmeninamerica.com/abuse.htm.

Any thoughts about Mildred and her story?  Click on the links below to watch Janice Wilson’s exclusive six part interview with Mildred Muhammad.

Mildred Muhammad Speaks – The Exclusive Six Part Interview on Black Men In America.com

Part 1 of 6:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RvvYvLKaCw

Part 2 of 6:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0Qep8902Q4

Part 3 of 6:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qhz_gP1nCtU

Part 4 of 6:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxCOVTPuZUY

Part 5 of 6:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqGWF9J3B-4

Part 6 of 6:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DLOQI_FibQ

 

Black Men In America.com Exclusive Interview

By Gary A. Johnson

Most artists would be daunted at the thought of remaking a classic work of art made by legends, but not Grammy winner Kirk Whalum.  The multi-dimensional saxophonist adeptly steps into the role of John Coltrane and tapped his brother, vocalist Kevin Whalum, to fill the shoes of Johnny Hartman on an unabashedly romantic collection of duets originally recorded in 1963 by the seminal artists.  Romance Language, due to be released on Valentine’s Day by Rendezvous Music, consists of all six songs that comprise the Coltrane/Hartman recording along with a handful of modern ballads to complete the disc produced by Kirk Whalum and John Stoddart.

Romance Language is Kirk Whalum’s 19th album as a front man since his 1985 solo debut, Floppy Disk.  He topped the Billboard contemporary jazz album charts twice (And You Know That! and Cache) and amassed 11 Grammy nominations.  Whalum took home a coveted Grammy earlier this year for a duet with Lalah Hathaway that appeared on his The Gospel According to Jazz: Chapter III.  An ordained minister who earned a Master’s degree in the Art of Religion, Kirk Whalum has forged an unparalleled career path in both the secular and the non-secular music words, garnering hits, awards and accolades for his jazz, R&B and gospel recordings.  His soulfully expressive tenor sax voice is unique and has appeared on literally hundreds of recordings by Barbara Streisand, Quincy Jones, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Michael McDonald, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, and Larry Carlton as well as on collaborative albums with Bob James, Rick Braun and Norman Brown.  When not recording or performing, he educates and mentors the next generation of musicians in his role as president/CEO of the STAX Music Academy and the STAX Museum of American Soul Music.

Earlier this month, Black Men In America.com Founder & Publisher Gary Johnson conducted an exclusive interview with Kirk Whalum.  This is Part I of that interview.

 BMIA.com:  Hey Kirk.  How are you doing?

 Kirk Whalum:  Hey Gary I’m doing great Gary.  Thank you so much.

 BMIA.com:  I’m really excited to talk to you, so let’s get right to it.  Let’s talk about your new CD “Romance Language.”

 Kirk Whalum:  I want to talk about this.  This is unlike any project I’ve ever done.  For someone like me   to take the music of the great John Coltrane and doing my own version of his music is kind of scary.  I’ve studied John Coltrane’s music and his life.  I wrote about him in my seminary final project.  I believe he would be happy with this effort because the spiritual focus of his life would dictate that his music be shared with new and expanding audiences.

BMIA.com:  That’s great.  Kirk, at what age did your musical journey begin?

Kirk Whalum:  That’s hard to say.  I can remember being about 3 or 4 years old and seeing my grandmother as the organist for a pretty high brow baptist church.  She played the pipe organ.  For me to be there and see her was a good experience.

BMIA.com:  You’ve played with a lot of people.  Who would you consider to be your musical influences?

Kirk Whalum:  We can start with Hank Crawford on saxophone.  He was my biggest influence.  There’s a guy who pastors in Chicago named Ossie Smith who plays the saxophone.  He is an amazingly well rounded musician.  He was the first one to pull me aside and begin to show me different things such as jazz theory and improvisation.  I owe a lot to him.  In terms of big names, there’s Arnett Cobb who is a famed saxophonist.  I wear a ring on my finger given to me by Arnett Cobb’s daughter.  I missed his funeral because I was in Japan.  When he was alive he was a very big part of my musical development.  Those were my biggest influences.  In terms of the people I played with, I’d have to say Bob James was the first big one.  He was the one who really discovered me.  I played and toured with him.  He got me signed to Columbia Records and produced my first three records.

BMIA.com:  You mentioned that you’ve been to Japan.  I know you speak more than one language.  What languages do you speak?

Kirk Whalum:  I speak Spanish and French.

BMIA.com:  Let me shift back to music.  What was it like playing with your brother and your Uncle who is affectionately known as “Peanut?”

Kirk Whalum:  I’ve recorded with both of them quite a few times.  I keep creating ways for us to collaborate.  These are two world class talents.  These are people who deserve to be heard.  I also work with my nephews and my son.

BMIA.com:  How long have you been married?

Kirk Whalum:  I have been married for 32 years in August 2012.

BMIA.com:  What is the secret to being married?

Kirk Whalum:  I trust God for that relationship.  I know that it’s his Grace that he saved my life.  Marriage is about forgiveness.  We have to constantly be in forgiveness mode and nurture the relationship.

BMIA.com:  What advice do you have to help young people who want a career in the music business?

Kirk Whalum:  One important thing for them to know is that they can control their destiny.  There’s so many aspects of the music industry that are out of their control, but the most important aspect of the business is within their control and that has to do with being diligent and pursuing your craft.

BMIA.com:  Is that you playing the saxophone solo on Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You,” from the soundtrack of the movie “The Bodyguard?”

Kirk Whalum:  Yes sir.

BMIA.com:  What was it like working with Whitney Houston?

Kirk Whalum:  I played with Whitney for 7 years.  The movie “The Bodyguard” was completely unique.  I was touring with Whitney and I was living in Paris.  She had insisted to the Director that she wanted to sing that song live to the film.  They were against recording music live to the film because there are too many things that can go wrong.  Whitney gave the producers an ultimatum.  She put her foot down and insisted that she sing live with her band or she would not sing the song.

BMIA.com:  You’re President/CEO of the STAX Music Museum.  Is that correct?

Kirk Whalum:  Yes.

BMIA.com:  What’s going on with the legendary STAX?

Kirk Whalum:  If it’s a raw funky groove, chances are it’s not Motown, its STAX.  STAX was known for. Booker T & the M.G’s, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, The Staples Singer, Albert King and Rufus Thomas.  STAX music was organic and raw.  In 1989, the building was torn down.  A few years later the building was erected and the STAX Music Academy is up and running.  The Academy has a charter school providing kids with a world class education, and music is a part of the curriculum.  The STAX Music Academy is an after school program of about 75-80 kids who come from different backgrounds.  The kids are talented and incredible.

For more information you can visit Kirk Whalum’s official web site at www.kirkwhalum.com.  Part II of our exclusive interview with Kirk Whalum will be posted next week.

Special thanks to Juanita Stephens for arranging this exclusive interview.

Gary A. Johnson is the Founder & Publisher of Black Men In America.com a popular online magazine on the Internet and the Black Men In America.com Blog.  Gary is also the author of the book “25 Things That Really Matter In Life.

 

 

 

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Black Men In America.com Administrator
Black Men In America.com is a popular website with a focus on black men. Approximately 45% of our site visitors are women. According to Alexa Internet and Ranking.com, Black Men In America.com is consistently ranked as one of the Top 10 most popular web sites (online community) on the Internet in the Ethnic/African/African-American category. Although our focus is on black men, we welcome all people, points of views and perspectives. Please do not use this site to post or transmit any unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane or indecent information of any kind, including without limitation any transmissions constituting or encouraging conduct that would constitute a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability or otherwise violate any local, state, national or international law. You alone are responsible for the material you post.
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