Kirk Whalum on Catholic conversion, gospel jazz, and finding identity in God

January 13, 2023 | National Catholic Reporter

By NATE TINNER-WILLIAMS | National Catholic Reporter

Kirk Whalum is a multi-Grammy Award-nominated saxophonist and composer whose work has spanned multiple genres, expressions, and platforms. He has to his credit the “most listened to” sax solo in history, and the Memphis native has nearly four decades of professional music under his belt. He is also perhaps the face of sacred jazz, having produced four critically acclaimed live albums featuring gospel music in the indigenous Black musical idiom.

More recently, his faith journey led him to the Catholic Church, an almost unheard-of turn for an American gospel music artist. Whalum sat down recently with Black Catholic Messenger to discuss this culminating moment, his musical inspirations, and his relationship with a certain African-American saint-to-be who also happens to be his kin. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

He is also perhaps the face of sacred jazz, having produced four critically acclaimed live albums featuring gospel music in the indigenous Black musical idiom.

More recently, his faith journey led him to the Catholic Church, an almost unheard-of turn for an American gospel music artist. Whalum sat down recently with Black Catholic Messenger to discuss this culminating moment, his musical inspirations, and his relationship with a certain African-American saint-to-be who also happens to be his kin. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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