When Jones wrote his book, the publisher made an unusual request: Put it to music. The result was that Jones and Thompson recorded a collection of spirituals for cassettes accompanying the book.
The quest now has broadened: Jones is working on a new project to make a documentary on spirituals for public television. He recently scored a major coup when jazz artist Bobby McFerrin agreed to host the program. McFerrin is best known to the general public for the popular hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy." But he is a respected jazz musician who recently has taken up conducting orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Symphony.
Jones had hoped from the beginning to land McFerrin, whose parents had been singers (his father, Robert McFerrin, was the first African-American man to sing at the New York Met) and were known for their renditions of spirituals. A mutual friend gave Jones the singer's home address, and Jones sent his proposal.
It so happened, the way Jones tells it, that McFerrin was nearing the end of a long road trip and, tired and discouraged, he was sitting offstage in Cleveland when a children's choir began performing spirituals.
"He later told me," Jones says, "that within the first minute, his whole body relaxed and he felt refreshed. He realized how important this music was and wanted to get involved in educating people about it. Then he came home, and there was my packet waiting for him."
Jones had expected to wait eight weeks before calling McFerrin. Instead, the singer called him. "He said his eyes bulged...He called it a gift from God and said that he would be honored to host the program," recalls Jones. "I don't believe that things like that happen by coincidence.