Trailblazing entertainment reporter
As the only child of color in his hometown of Spring Lake, Michigan, Jim McFarlin might have foreseen that his professional career would also set him apart. Over nearly a half century in Michigan journalism and criticism, McFarlin was the first African American religion editor for The Grand Rapids Press; the first staffer to initiate regular coverage of rock and popular music at that paper; the first person of color to cover rock ’n’ roll for The Detroit News, and one of the few African Americans in the nation to serve as lead television critic for a major daily newspaper, adding his unique cultural perspective to America’s predominant entertainment medium.
McFarlin has written about everything from sports and politics to crime and colleges. Yet he is still best known for his time at The News, where he reviewed more than 100 concerts a year for 11 years –– longer than any of the paper’s previous rock critics –– and spent countless nights in Detroit’s nightclubs helping launch the careers of Motor City musicians.
He invented the “Big Mac Radio Awards,” which annually celebrated the best work he heard on Detroit airwaves. Upon leaving The News in 1995, McFarlin became Detroit’s “go-to” freelance writer, simultaneously working for multiple publications –– HOUR Detroit, Detroit Metro Times, Wayne State magazine, dBusiness, BLAC Detroit –– an almost unheard-of playlist in a single market. McFarlin served as ghostwriter or editor on a dozen books, including autobiographies of rock legend Mitch Ryder and The Booster, whose under-the-table support of young Detroit athletes led to the downfall of the University of Michigan basketball’s “Fab Five.”
When McFarlin was diagnosed with Stage IV kidney failure in 2008, his first-person HOUR features and subsequent blog regarding his illness and successful transplant provided hope and support for patients and caregivers alike.