Awakin Calls » Reverend F.W. King » Blog
Reverend F.W. King: A Love Supreme: Music and The Church of John Coltrane
Nuggets From Reverend F.W. King's Call
Last Saturday, we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Reverend F.W. King of The Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church. The Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church has been a presence in the San Francisco Bay Area for decades. The church was founded in 1969 by Franzo King and his wife, Marina King four years after hearing John Coltrane perform at the San Francisco Jazz Workshop. King had been a fan of Coltrane until that night, which he and Marina describe as a “sound baptism.” He then became a disciple. Coltrane was performing, “A Love Supreme,” a seven-years in the making personal testament to God. In the late 1950’s Coltrane nearly overdosed on heroin, which forced his departure from the Miles Davis Quintet and inspired him to write this devotion to God. After hearing Coltrane that night, King left believing that Coltrane was more than a musician. He was a saint chosen to “guide souls back to God.”
On His Transformative Encounter with John Coltrane’s Music:
In an interview on the March 9th Awakin call, moderated by Aryae Coopersmith and hosted by LuAnn Cooley, Archbishop Reverend King clarified that time of his life: “At that time I was in my early 20’s and we were searching for a richer and fuller (life). (A Love Supreme) really spoke to the struggle we were having as young people. (Coltrane) let us know you could have a conversation with God and I humbly asked to be given the privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace, unerring merit and favor. That to me is so important, to know that we, as individuals, have a personal relationship with a Creator, to a Cosmic Force, a God that we can have a conversation with and that we can even ask for something and it be granted. So when you understand the fullness of that, then when you see the humility, the courage, and the fearlessness of John to pour out his heart to the people, ‘As time and events moved on, a period of irresolution did prevail and I entered into a phase that was contradictory to the pledge and away from the esteem path,’ and I said, Oh, my god! He’s confessing that he backslid, that after having this spiritual awakening and having a one-on-one-conversation with a God, that he could petition for to be a servant of truth, that he backslid, but he said, “Now and again I have been duly re-informed of His Omnipotence and my need and my dependence on Him and His way is through love and which we all are and it is truly a love supreme.”
On His Early Struggles:
“As a young man I went through a lot of things. The most powerful thing I can think of is some of the law challenges. I had court cases where I had judges threatening me. I was on probation and if I violated my probation, I was given the opportunity to take a violation and do six months in jail. I said I’m not interested in going to jail and the judge made a gesture out of me. He said, ‘Young man, I’ll give you a chance. He seems to have contact with the law every two or three weeks, but I’m trying to give him (a chance).’ He got me down to ten days and I refused to take the ten days and he said, ‘O.K. I’m going to give you a month and if you have police contact between now and that month, then you’re going to do this ten years.’ So, I said O.K. Of course, two weeks later, I’m a Black man in America driving a car that always has a probable cause even if the police have to knock the tail light out with his flashlight when he pulls you over, so I’m back in court. I’m in the holding tank. Then they take me back upstairs and my attorney comes in and says, ‘You’re not going to believe this. The judge died on the bench.’ Now this happened to be my mother’s birthday so we could see where there was another Force that was interceding on our behalf. The interesting part is that when my probation officer asked me what I was doing, I told him I was starting a church. He thought I was being sarcastic and being somebody who needs to be dealt with.
“I had a couple of miracle occasions (like that). One was 6-23 and the other was 9-23. 6-23 is my mother and 9-23 is John. I’m like Jimi Hendrix: if six turns out to be nine, I don’t mind. Then John Coltrane (is) talking about living clean and doing right. That was important and the music was that anointed sound that we leaned on for strength and courage.”
Although interviews have in the past depicted Rev. King as struggling with heroin and being a factor in starting the church, in this interview, he discounts that. “That’s a misnomer about me being addicted to heroin. I was never addicted to heroin. I did experiment with it, but I was never addicted to heroin. I think with my experimenting with it and seeing John’s liberation from it. I think Charlie Parker was the one to cause us to experiment with it because all of those cats were using it at that time, but when John Coltrane came into the picture, then that became something that we were liberated from, but I was never a junkie.”
On Being Born a “Prisoner of Love” and Family Lineage:
Rev. King credits his family with the creation and growth of the church. “I’ve been a prisoner of love from the day I was born. My mother wouldn’t go to the hospital to have me because she loved her firstborn child so much, she didn’t trust to leave him with her mother to go to the hospital. So, I was born at home. There’s no doubt who my mother is. I came facing the world face up. I didn’t come head down. The doctor told my mother I was born to be a servant and there would be great things that would come through me, because I was born like that. So, I was given that and later I found out I was born on Gandhi’s birthday and not only that, but Nat ‘The Prophet’ Turner. So, I’ve got a balance here that I have to deal with.
“When I say I was a prisoner of love, my mother in her writings said she had a very special relationship with her second-born child. You have to understand that my mother is a fire holy ghost preacher, a builder of churches, and a maker of ministers. She had a theological seminary and she made bishops and priests and she made me from the womb as a child preacher.
“She had the Brighter Day Theological Seminary. She had classes and she educated men of the cloth in the way of God. She had a school that was accredited to give out Doctors of Divinity degrees. In the Pentecostal Movement, my family is very prominent. My father’s mother, who was also the sister of Benjamin Davis, the first Black general in the United States army and also was the one who built the first pulpit that Bishop Charles Mason preached off of, the founder of the Church of God in Christ. My uncle was a Ruling Bishop in that church, and it was my privilege to continue in that. Like my uncle said, ‘It was my heritage. You need to do this,’ but God was leading me in another direction.
“When I say I was a prisoner of love I have to bring in my wife who we know is Supreme Marina King. That was a marriage that was built in heaven with her. My father died when I was three years old, but he didn’t leave me alone. He re-manifested and reincarnated in Marina Lynn Robinson who was born on his birthday. He came back to nurture and guide me. The best way we all can be raised is through the Spirit of Sophia, the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of women. It has been the women in my life that have been most important in spirituality whether that woman was yet a babe and a child in Wanika Watusi King who was just an infant when we were called together to do this. I have another daughter too, Makeda, who has been very important in this whole movement.
“People say we need to empower women and I say ‘Are you serious? They have enough power. What we need to do is benefit from the power they have. They don’t need us to empower them, but we can benefit from the power of women. So I’ve been a prisoner of love and I’ve been loving every minute of it.”
On the Power of Music to Connect Us With the Divine Source:
Of his intent, King said, ”My goal is to live the truly religious life and express it in my music. If you live it when you play it, there’s no problem because the music is part of the whole thing…You know we say music reaches further than any other expression from the external world. That’s the beauty of music, it boasts the meaning of creation and the means of absorbing it, ‘By music the world was created and by music it is withdrawn again to the Source which created it.’ So, when we begin to understand the power of music and the source of it, it has another value for us. We uplift our understanding of music and we also prepare ourselves to be lifted to same level.”
King also differentiates between types of music and their effects on people. In the 1996 documentary, “The Church of Saint Coltrane” by filmmaker Gayle Gilman, King explains that “John Coltrane said that music is a venue of rising and so we wanted to create a temple that was an expression of it.” In the Awakin interview, he went further. “In the words of St. John, he said that you can have that term jazz which has been foisted upon us, but music was an expression of higher ideals. So jazz is a marketing phrase which has fallen short of its goals because at one time jazz was the number one market in terms of music. Now it’s just about at the bottom. Try to put a straight-jacket on it by calling it “jazz,” which has no real definition or speaks to the culture or talk about (being) from Timbuktu or the Mississippi Delta. It really talks about Wall Street and marketing. In that sense, it loses a lot of its value in being able to transform people into spiritual beings.”
“There’s a difference. The intention of the individual contributor, as Coltrane says. Music is an expression of higher ideals. That’s his perspective; however, there are others. Music is used for all kinds of different things—“work it up” music, there’s music to excite the physical senses of a person rather than reach to the soul of a person.
As a recovering addict, Coltrane found God in 1957, experienced a “spiritual awakening,” and dedicated his masterpiece, “a humble offering,” to God whom he credited with giving him “a richer, fuller, more productive life.” King expanded on this, “In terms of folks with addiction and John Coltrane having been liberated from that, I think that listening to the music and the selection of composition like Transition because in Evolution and some of the music that maybe spoke to at the end where some of the music almost sounds chaotic and it’s not depending on a melody and harmony, I think that that’s where the area that St. John went into that affects certain people’s lives. At this point, where they’re not necessarily living harmonic lives, sometimes you have go into that area, that undefinable. I think John takes you into that space and then he brings you out with Evolution and Transition because we have to evolve and transcend into really Christlike beings. What we say to people is you need to listen to John Coltrane. The most important thing on the spiritual path is self-discipline; however, I don’t know if that’s the formula for everybody. I think what happens even with people who have resources and they’re able to go to these clinics and things and be pulled out of their jungle and put into a quiet place, once they’re out, they are right back into it. Addiction is something people have to deal with individually, but John Coltrane’s music is certainly an aid to that.”
On the Universal Language of Coltrane’s Music, but Many Paths to Source
“The beauty of John Coltrane… John Coltrane said when asked if he was a Christian, ‘ Well, I’m a Christian of the early faith. My mother and father were Christian. The thing with me is whether a man knows the truth and every man has to find that for himself.’ We (in the church) don’t boast about being what Jesus never was and that’s Christian. I don’t know that Christianity is the answer or even religion. I think there’s a need to be free from religion because religion isn’t always fostered to be for the liberation of people, but it becomes an institution or confinement that (is) built on fear and judgment so you might be better off if you haven’t had that kind of experience or you might not. It’s whether or not a man knows the truth and as John said, ‘The truth is above labels.’”
King described how the music transcends in the ways Coltrane expressed. “Here’s what happens: the music opens up the heart chakra. It removes our guilt and brings us to shame unto repentance. The music has a way of touching the inner part of our being and reconnecting us to the creative source. The Sufis say that God tricked the soul into the body with music (see Grand Obsession: A Piano Odyssey by Perri Knize, Simon & Schuster, 2008, p. 274 for a short recitation). There’s a real connection within the human soul. There’s the soul of the human being that reconnects to the Cosmic Force of the Creator that duly informs us of the mercy of the Creator so that we can come without guilt, but we can’t be shameful until repentance. I think it’s a personal experience for everyone. I would say this too. I said there were other laborers. I think it was Charlie Parker who really prepared the way for John’s coming because he tended the hearts and he challenged us to be bold enough to listen to what was then a very new music, which was called bebop, but it was a challenging music and it was coming from a challenging culture. I don’t think that John Coltrane’s music comes to save everybody. If that was the case, we wouldn’t need Krishna, we wouldn’t need Buddha, we wouldn’t need Jesus, we wouldn’t need Moses, we wouldn’t need Muhammad. I think John Coltrane speaks in a universal language, but I don’t think everybody that comes to a realization or liberation is going to have to come through John Coltrane’s music.
“If you heard Charlie Parker play a ballad that’s a preparation, that’s a clearing of the land and planting the seed, when one man plants and another man waters and God gives the increase. Charlie Parker was the forerunner like John Baptist and then, of course, you’ve got intellectual challenges in the music. We have the great Duke Ellington with his sacred concerts he brought to Grace Cathedral here in San Francisco. When you see it’s all from God, when you look at these pioneers or these practitioners of his music…We did what we did at Grace Cathedral in 2014 in celebration of the 50 year anniversary of the Love Supreme. That place holds 1800 people. There was standing room only and Bishop Marks said that this was the highest thing that had happened since Duke Ellington was there. We have to understand that Duke Ellington is so important in terms of the spirituality of the music. Don’t just begin with John Coltrane. Go all the way back to Beethoven who said all he hears is Holy! Holy! Holy! John just happens to be… when you translate from the English, it says “a gift from God.” So that’s a gift and we can accept it, but we’re not going to get into theological gang-banging about this is the only way. We don’t have a cornerstone of what john Coltrane has done for people’s lives. We just happen to be counted amongst those that have soul winning testimonies about the power of his music and we’ve been given a holy ambition and mantel to carry this forth.”
A Love Supreme is intensely personal and the body of work that brought about John Coltrane’s sainthood and the creation of the church bearing his name, The Church of St. Coltrane. King explained, “There’s a multitude called but there only a few chosen to this divine work in terms of music and the toning of souls. Understand, too, that this music comes out of a struggling people that’s looking for freedom and very much dependent on higher powers to bring this freedom. As Coltrane says, ‘There are many to fear and few to trust in terms of liberation and freedom.’Coltrane says freedom has a hell of a lot to do with this music.
“The challenge is always to be humble in what we’re doing and clear and as close to the truth as we can be. The challenge is always to be consistent and open for learning. We can’t have the arrogance just because we’ve had some undeniable experiences with St. John Coltrane and maybe he’s not a saint for you. Maybe he’s God. I’m not going to argue about that. And then, it’s also equally important not just what we say, but what we’re doing. So if we’re not doing anything, that speaks as witness to what we’re saying. That’s why John Coltrane says we have a responsibility, that any department of our lives, politically, socially, musically, if we see that something can be made better, then we have to make an attempt to make it better--whether that’s dealing with social, political, or any department of our lives. That’s what we have to be so we take the Coltrane Consciousness, Coltrane theology, Coltrane philosophy and we apply it to any of the departments of our lives. If there’s a homeless problem, a hunger problem, a political thing that needs to be challenged, if we need to get involved in the environmental justice that we find ourselves in, such (as this).”
On Building a Church on the Music of Coltrane:
In the Gayle Gilman 1996 documentary on King, King said, “The worship of God is what we encourage, and we’re using the music of John Coltrane.” According toNew York Times reporter, Samuel Freedman,“The Coltrane church is not a gimmick or a forced alloy of nightclub music and ethereal faith. Its message of deliverance through divine sound is actually quite consistent with Coltrane’s own experience and message.”In the Awakin interview, King detailed the evolution of using Coltrane and his music as a focus for worship. “We’d write John Coltrane’s name 1000 times per week. We’d meditate on his image. (The name) John Coltrane is a mantra in itself for if you love John Coltrane John Coltrane and those were the songs. Our songs were about John Coltrane. (In the beginning) it wasn’t like we have now, which is like a liturgical service that we inherited from the African Orthodox Church. How (did) we become African Orthodox and maintain John Coltrane as our spiritual teacher? He becomes canonized in the African Orthodox Church and becomes a saint and now One Mind Temple Evolutionary Transitional Body of Christ becomes St. John Will I. Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church Global Spiritual Community.
“The sound mediation takes us back to our beginning before we were considered an institution. We were just family and friends that came together to listen to the music, to meditate and discuss it, more of a cultural experience that we were having, realizing that the music, the ‘so called music called jazz’ had a lot to do with the shaping of our character and our personalities and our values. You had the royalty there with the Duke and the Count and Lady Day and President and we had Charlie Yardbird Parker who was like John the Baptist, the forerunner who would prepare the way for the coming of that anointed sound that leaked down from throne of heaven out of the very mind of God and correlated in the one John Will I. Am Coltrane.”
They were also taught by Alice Coltrane. “You talk about a woman of wisdom teaching and humility and excellence and supreme love, that’s what you find in Alice Coltrane, a great teacher. She increased our ability in the way we meditated. She taught us how to meditate with a pen and a pad. As the Lord spoke things to our heart, there were certain things we had to write down. She also selected some of the works of St. John Coltrane that we could listen to (in order) to get full benefit, you follow St. John’s career the bebop stuff he was doing and some of the music that has maybe a different vibration. He grew and evolved.” She also taught them to “focus on liberation as opposed to salvation. Salvation is more like a Christian term. She said who wants to be salvaged when they could be liberated?”
The church and the way they worship, even where they worship is always evolving. “St. John said there’s never any end. There are always new sounds to experience and imagine. I don’t think we think about an ending. Basically, music is sound and rhythm and there’s melodies and harmonies and dissonance and John was dealing with all of that. He said he had a sound he wanted to hear so you move as your heart moves you in terms of what you’re searching (for).” In explaining the idea of it ending due to the challenges of finding a location, he said, “I don’t think any of us are willing to get on that particular cross or able to. It’s kind of like…we have a thing in the church that’s called holy oil. You have holy oil that was blessed a thousand years ago by a pope or bishop and it never runs out because when you get down to a teaspoonful, you just pour it in another gallon of olive oil and that one teaspoonful transfers the rest of it into that same blessed oil. We all make our contributions to the music as much as we can and God gives the increase. I don’t know if St. John had a formula as to how we can continue. He said he was in a search. He’s got a sound that ‘I’m listening for. I don’t know what it is, but I’ll know when I hear it.’”
Despite the spiritual messaging and religious designation, King rejects the idea that his church is a nonprofit, “I think ‘nonprofit’ is a misnomer. If you don’t profit, you perish,” he explains and adds that the church conducts various fundraising ventures in order to keep its doors open. They are also involved in different forms of outreach into the community. “John Coltrane said that if we see anything in our lives that could be better, whether politically, socially, musically then we have an obligation to try to make it better, so we are very much involved socially, politically. In our other locations, we had the opportunity of running a vegetarian food program that went on for years. We deal with people coming out of prison. We fight for environmental justice. We were very much involved in Occupy. Our pastor is a chaplain in hospitals. We reach out in all different kinds of areas with this ministry.
“We are all instruments. I don’t think this work is limited to whether or not you can spell out a C major chord or if you can manipulate a particular instrument. We become those instruments. What we do sometimes is we take the recorded music of John Coltrane into the sick rooms. We’ve got some powerful testimonies of this music having healing power to get people up off of sick beds and even death beds. The music is more than just a “work it up music.” It has the power to bring a mental stability, physical healing. That’s a part of what we do. We make sure that people have the opportunity to hear this, the first voice, which is the voice of John Coltrane. In other cases, some of us are playing the music.”
The church community also enjoys a diverse congregation. Rev, King previously has said, “We have an advantage because we are a global spiritual community and even though we are tied to one community, we are a global spiritual community and work with people of many different backgrounds, educational (levels) and economic (status). As we form one, we may all end one. That is how we feel about engaging the world.”
On the Magic of “A Love Supreme”:
And everything they do revolves around the music.The four movements of A Love Supreme—Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance, and Psalm—are the basis of worship. In the previous interview, King said, “It’s like saying, ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’ It’s like saying melody, harmony and rhythm.’ In other words, you have to acknowledge and then you resolve and then you pursue, and the manifestation of it is a love supreme.”
In the Awakin interview, he described the music in more detail. “When you look at the music and the way it’s set up, there’s formula in that music. We see it as a holy trinity: melody, harmony, rhythm. Then you have Acknowledgement, Resolutions and Pursuance. It’s like analyzation, interpretation, application. So, you lack resolve, you pursue and in your pursuance you come to point of the manifestation of a love supreme in your life. That’s very important. When you listen to the music, in a technical sense you can feel the awesomeness of acknowledging and then what you acknowledge has to be resolved as to the what the true meaning of what you’ve acknowledged, what you’ve seen, what you’ve analyzed. Then you have to interpret it. Once you’ve interpreted it, you’ve got to apply it and that’s when you see in the third movement, ‘Resolution.’ (Resolution) opens up with the drum because the drum puts melody and harmony into motion. We say that’s the holy spirit, which is the active force of the trinity by which the Creator is moving through being to bring about the full manifestation of the love supreme on a global level.
“All made from one, all made in one, words, sound, speech, memories, thoughts, fears, and emotions, time all related, all made from one, all made in one. Now we’re in the fourth part, which is a song and it’s called, ‘A Love Supreme.’ Once you come to the point of pursuance, then there needs to be a commitment. That has to take place and acknowledge a love supreme. He says, ‘I will do all I can to be worthy of thee, O Lord.’ It all has to do with it and to really understand the theology or the doctrine of what we’re doing is to understand the awesome revelation of the love supreme album and when you go through there, peace, love, perfection, all of that comes up in the prayer. It’s kind of an amazing thing that happens and it is born out of love.
“I think that if we are going to create a world that is harmonically balanced, it is important that we come together whether it’s for poetry, music, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, raising the dead, it is a collective effort that takes place. That’s the power of two or three gathered in the name of love. That makes things happen.”
The Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church is a place where music is the practice of religion. Weekly Divine Liturgy services take place every Sunday at noon at 2097 Turk Street, San Francisco, California and Sound Meditation is the first Sunday of each month at noon. All are welcome, and if you play an instrument, bring it with you. You can also hear Reverend Sister Wanika King-Stephens, Reverend King’s daughter, on The Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane Uplift Broadcast, which airs every Tuesday from noon to 4 p.m. on KPOO 89.5 FM. The show includes music and words of wisdom of St. John Coltrane, and occasional interviews.
A video of A Love Supreme’s fourth movement, Psalm, along with the words that are the basis of the music can be found at https://vimeo.com/38345026.
A Love Supreme
I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee O Lord.
It all has to do with it.
Thank you God.
There is none other.
God is. It is so beautiful.
Thank you God. God is all.
Help us to resolve our fears and weaknesses.
Thank you God.
In You all things are possible.
We know. God made us so.
Keep your eye on God.
God is. He always was. He always will be.
No matter what...it is God.
He is gracious and merciful.
It is most important that I know Thee.
Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, thoughts,
fears and emotions – time – all related ...
all made from one ... all made in one.
Blessed be His name.
Thought waves – heat waves-all vibrations –
all paths lead to God. Thank you God.
His way ... it is so lovely ... it is gracious.
It is merciful – thank you God.
One thought can produce millions of vibrations
and they all go back to God ... everything does.
Thank you God.
Have no fear ... believe ... thank you God.
The universe has many wonders. God is all. His way ... it is so wonderful.
Thoughts – deeds – vibrations, etc.
They all go back to God and He cleanses all.
He is gracious and merciful...thank you God.
Glory to God ... God is so alive.
May I be acceptable in Thy sight.
We are all one in His grace.
The fact that we do exist is acknowledgement of Thee O Lord.
Thank you God.
God will wash away all our tears ...
He always has ...
He always will.
Seek Him everyday. In all ways seek God everyday.
Let us sing all songs to God
To whom all praise is due ... praise God.
No road is an easy one, but they all
go back to God.
With all we share God.
It is all with God.
It is all with Thee.
Obey the Lord.
Blessed is He.
We are from one thing ... the will of God ... thank you God.
I have seen God – I have seen ungodly –
none can be greater – none can compare to God.
Thank you God.
He will remake us ... He always has and He always will.
It is true – blessed be His name – thank you God.
God breathes through us so completely ...
so gently we hardly feel it ... yet,
it is our everything.
Thank you God.
All from God.
Thank you God. Amen.
JOHN COLTRANE - December, 1964
Lots of gratitude to Preeta and Aryae for their incredible assistance in pulling and organizing these "nuggets" and a special gratitude to all the amazing behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!
About Awakin Calls
Awakin Call is a weekly global series of deep conversations with inspiring changemakers. It is an all-volunteer offering and is completely free, without any ads or solicitation. Read more ...
Subscribe To Newsletter
To stay updated about guest announcements, fresh content, and other inspiring tidbits, subscribe below and we'll send you a weekly email.
If you have any questions, feel free to drop us a note.