Mr. Booker

What does it mean to bear witness? Benjamin Booker asked himself this question repeatedly—and found an answer in music.

“Am I going to be a witness? And in today’s world, is that enough?”

If you saw an image of the musician Benjamin Booker out of context, you might think he was an actor from a civil rights–era period piece. With a vintage image to match his throwback sound—a rock-soul-blues amalgam that’s earthy and analog—he has a style and countenance recalling Harry Belafonte, somewhere between worldly and weary.

Civil rights, and what we do with them, have been heavy on Booker’s mind over the last few years. In 2017, he released his second full-length album, Witness, on ATO Records. The rousing title track, featuring Mavis Staples, evokes all the things that potent word might make you think of: gospel (as in, “Can I get a witness?”); bearing witness through truth-telling; and seeing that which you can’t unsee.

For Booker, 29, a turning point in his ...

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