Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
Wanika King-Stephens' life is full of music and church.
In Part 1, Wanika traces her life back to her parents' move to San Francisco from Los Angeles in the 1960s with their four-month-old daughter. Her dad's dad was an evangelist in the Pentecostal Church. It was a strict upbringing where, if her father as a young man wanted to listen to so-called music of the world, country music was the only acceptable genre.
Despite that, he grew up loving jazz and, especially, John Coltrane. And he raised his own children in that light.
Wanika's little sister sings, and the two were in a band when they were younger called Mystic Youth. Wanika played bass in the group and was the band leader. They wrote their own music but were too young to play clubs at first.
Her mother sang jazz and, along with Wanika's dad, joined with Alice Coltrane to help found the Vedantic Center, which was originally in San Francisco. Around this time, the family had moved to Visitacion Valley, a diverse, lively neighborhood that Wanika describes for us. From there, she shares stories of trips around town she took as a young girl.
Wanika wraps up Part 1 talking about her high school days in The City. And after that, as she puts it, she "was jammin' pretty hard with Mystic Youth."
In Part 2, Wanika talks about how, after high school, her band Mystic Youth became more of a full-time gig, writing music, playing shows, recording. She shares the mischievous story of how she got started playing bass. Self-taught at first, she eventually took lessons, and that made her think that music school at City College was a good idea. She came to think of herself as a songwriter around this time.
Wanika talks about the influence that Father "Blue Water" Haven had on her relationship with music, as well as others she didn't know personally who affected her.
From there, Wanika talks about the history of "Uplift," a show on KPOO that she took over and was the DJ on for two decades. And then she tells us how her parents founded the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church.
It all started with jazz "listening clinics" in the Bayview. The small but growing group began to investigate Coltrane and the message in his music. The church was born and became part of the AOC in 1982. And Wanika decided she wanted to be active in this new church—she became a deacon.
Wanika was the Uplift DJ for 19 years. She handed the show over to her nephew as Wanika sets out to launch her own show on Coltrane Consciousness Radio (Live 365) later this summer.
She wraps up this podcast with her thoughts and wishes for the future of San Francisco.
Shout out to Rev. Arnold Townsend for introducing us to Wanika.
We recorded this podcast at St. John Coltrane AOC in May 2021.