McBride's Magical Musical Bus Tour

A chance meeting between a regional Comcast Corp. executive and author/musician James McBride led to a partnership that brought the writer's message of literacy and education to at-risk teens in 12 of the MSO's Southeastern markets in October.

"They did a very good job," said McBride of the tour Comcast sponsored to inner city and magnet schools in such locales as Knoxville, Tenn., and Tuscaloosa, Ala. "I enjoyed it immensely, getting to spread the gospel of reading, music and literature."

McBride's autobiography, The Color of Water, is required reading in many schools. It tells of his past as a dropout and his later realization that he was wrong to abandon his education.

'Riffin' Tour'

He since has obtained both bachelors' and masters' degrees and is an accomplished writer and jazz musician.

He developed a school program, dubbed the "Riffin' and Pontificatin' Tour," that he and his band take to schools.

At no time in modern history have we been able to spread the moral decadence that we have today, McBride said. He chooses to tell young people that attention to the arts can encourage sound reasoning.

"How's a kid to aspire to literary greatness if they haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird or any of Toni Morrison?" he said.

Alison Jenkin, southern regional vice president of government affairs, happened to meet McBride at a literacy event sponsored by Gov. Jeb Bush in Florida.

During their discussion, Jenkin realized that several of the cities McBride intended to visit on his tour were Comcast markets where the company has school contacts because of the Cable in the Classroom program.

For his school stops, McBride traveled in a Comcast logo-emblazoned bus with his tour ID on it. He and his seven-member band were also equipped with digital cameras, so they could document their life on the road.

"I went to three or four of his stops. They did a show! He'd start as a lecture, but 15 minutes or so in, he started playing, just jamming. He showed what it really takes to connect with kids," said Reg Griffin, Comcast's Atlanta spokesman.

Alabama Hijinx

At a Tuscaloosa high school, students who wanted to show him their band room hijacked McBride. Once they got him there, the truth came out — they really wanted to play with him.

"It's one of the more inspirational things we've ever done and based on feedback from teachers, the reaction is better than we ever envisioned," he added.

Tape of the events, plus the footage from the band on the bus, will be edited into a 30-minute special by producers at CN8: The Comcast Network. The special will air late this month or in December, and will be provided to other Comcast divisions for telecast.