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James R. Newell

  • Broadcast in Spirituality



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Born and raised in rural Massachusetts, James quit high school at 15 and began playing drums for internationally known cabaret singer Helen Schneider. He later moved to Boston where he began working with former Muddy Waters guitarist Luther "Georgia Boy" "Shaky Snake" Johnson. James soon found himself touring college campuses in "packaged" blues shows featuring such blues greats as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Mose Allison, John Hammond, Jr., Robert "Jr." Lockwood and John Mayall. His affiliation with Johnson ultimately led to more work as a drummer with a variety of blues greats including John Lee Hooker, James Cotton, Jr. Wells, Hubert Sumlin, Big Joe Turner, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and others.

James received his bachelor's in psychology from Tennessee State University in 1999, and his master's in pastoral counseling and theology at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in 2001. In 2007, he earned his Ph.D. in History and Critical Theories of Religion from Vanderbilt. His dissertation focused on music in Islam, with a special emphasis on the South Asian practice of Qawwali (Sufi devotional music). James also serves on the board of the Depth Psychology Alliance, a global community for discussing Jungian and depth psychology.

James' most recent CD is "The Songs of Hafiz," breaking new artistic ground by setting to music the poetry of 14th century Persian Sufi poet Hafiz of Shiraz.  He sets the classic images of Persian ghazal poetry to an eclectic blend of world, folk and blues melodies.  His feel for American blues evokes the ambiance of the traditional Sufi tavern, with the traditional Persian themes of lover and beloved, the wine of Divine intoxication, and the torturous path of love.