The New Yorker - John Coltrane Church
Franzo and Marina King had recently moved from the Midwest to San Francisco when they decided to celebrate their first wedding anniversary by going to hear John Coltrane play at the Jazz Workshop. It was 1965, and the saxophonist was in the midst of a radical transformation, The couple had a spiritual experience. At times, it was as though Coltrane was looking directly at them while he played. “In our minds, we felt like he knew who we were and what we were there for, even if we did not know ourselves.” After that show, which they came to think of as their “sound baptism,” the Kings became obsessed with Coltrane. His death, in 1967, at the age of forty, devastated the music world, but for Franzo and Marina, who had begun taking Coltrane’s music and ideas seriously as a world view, he had not passed away. He had merely ascended. Franzo had always imagined becoming a preacher one day. He had now found his God. The Kings’ jazz club that they had opened years before was refashioned into a temple, where members participated in the organizing and uplift common in the Bay Area of the sixties.
The Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church, as it is known today, recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, The church has operated under a few different names, in different parts of San Francisco, dealing with the tumult of a changing city and rising rents, the church attracts visitors from all over the world. Its existence is a story of devotion, but it’s also a story of family. Franzo and Marina—now Reverend King—raised their children there. Their daughter, Wanika, is now a pastor and bishop-elect at the church; Franzo, Jr., is a deacon; both of them along with the couple’s other daughter, Nakeda, are “sound ministers".
The Coltrane Church is open to all. You’re free to bring your own instrument.
Photographed in San Francisco, CA for The New Yorker
Text by Hua Hsu