Coltrane as A Religious Figure


“Let us sing all songs to God.

Let us pursue Him in the righteous path. Yes it is true: “Seek and ye shall find”

 
 

Coltrane icon at St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church

 
 

After John Coltrane‘s death, a congregation called the Yardbird Temple in San Francisco began worshipping him as God incarnate. The group was named after Charlie Parker, whom they equated to John the Baptist. The congregation later became affiliated with the African Orthodox Church; this involved changing Coltrane’s status from a god to a saint. The resultant St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, San Francisco is the only African Orthodox church that incorporates Coltrane’s music and his lyrics as prayers in its liturgy.

Samuel G. Freedman wrote in a New York Times article that “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.” Freedman also commented on Coltrane’s place in the canon of American music:

In both implicit and explicit ways, Coltrane also functioned as a religious figure. Addicted to heroin in the 1950s, he quit cold turkey, and later explained that he had heard the voice of God during his anguishing withdrawal. […] In 1966, an interviewer in Japan asked Coltrane what he hoped to be in five years, and Coltrane replied, “A saint.”

Coltrane is depicted as one of the 90 saints in the Dancing Saints icon of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. The icon is a 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) painting in the Byzantine iconographic style that wraps around the entire church rotunda. It was executed by Mark Dukes, an ordained deacon at the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, who painted other icons of Coltrane for the Coltrane Church.[43] Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey included Coltrane on their list of historical black saints and made a “case for sainthood” for him in an article on their former website.

Documentaries on Coltrane and the church include Alan Klingenstein‘s The Church of Saint Coltrane (1996), and a 2004 program presented by Alan Yentob for the BBC.

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