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James Witherite has oft been described as a quintessential modern-day renaissance man.

Sports broadcaster. Writer. Musician.

He truly does it all — and more in the sense of a Swiss army knife than a jack of all trades.

Early life

James, a western Pennsylvania native, first found his musical aptitude at age 3, when he began picking out melodies on his grandmother's Wurlitzer organ. He began playing the trumpet in grade 3 and was active in his school's band, choral and theatre departments through graduation from Brookville (Pa.) Area High School in 2004. While James represented Brookville as a three-time member of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association All-State Chorus, the majority of his formation as a musician came outside the classroom, largely through his transcription of horn section parts from Chicago records and his self-driven study of music theory, harmony and orchestration.

James was also heavily involved with his school's athletic department — albeit from outside the sidelines. He served as the public address announcer for Brookville's baseball and basketball teams beginning in grade 7, and furthered his involvement in sports media through his work as a scholastic sports correspondent for the Courier-Express in nearby DuBois, Pa., beginning his sophomore year.


Music career

Following his graduation from high school, James — long a city boy at heart — moved to downtown Pittsburgh, where he studied music technology at Duquesne University and graduated magna cum laude in December 2007. James studied jazz trumpet under world renowned artist Sean Jones, and music theory and jazz composition under acclaimed writers Mike Tomaro and David Cutler.

After settling on the East Coast, James spent many of his weekends in 2010 and 2011 playing in club and wedding bands through the region before once again deciding to fully dedicate himself to the music he loves: jazz. He spent 2012 revisiting old compositions and premiering new ones with the Zeropoint Big Band in State College, Pa., and the partnership culminated in the recording and release of +17.

Following +17, James fell in love with jazz organ, owing to his piano chops, his experience covering bass parts with his left hand on those weekend club gigs, and his knack for on-the-spot orchestration. Under the guidance and tutelage of B3 great Tony Monaco, James blossomed into a capable jazz organist himself, having released Modern Organ Trio (2013) and Please Do Not Clap On One and Three (2014) with his Pittsburgh-based trio featuring guitarist Ken Karsh.

In 2016, James made his first foray into writing liturgical music, penning the Mass of the Epiphany for Catholic congregational use. That year, he also served as assistant producer for the debut recording of saxophonist and composer Rick Hirsch's Big Ol' Band.

Currently, James is active as an organist — with his Philadelphia-based trio, at his Catholic parish in Dover, Del., and for a handful of area hockey teams. Additionally, he performs as a bugler for some of the nation's top horse racing events, and is the de facto Canadian anthem singer for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League, in addition to performing both the American and Canadian anthems for the University of Delaware hockey teams. He still shows up on occasion — in his signature stealthy way — as a "hired gun" on keyboards, vocals and brass with various projects around Philadelphia.


Horse racing media career

During his time at Duquesne, James frequented The Meadows and Mountaineer racetracks on nights when he did not have rehearsal commitments, making an odd bet on the races but also learning the craft of racecalling while armed with binoculars, coloured Sharpies and a tape recorder. He called his first live race in April 2006 at Flamboro Downs in Ontario and worked a few county fair meetings in Michigan that summer — often sleeping in his car in the infield to reduce costs!

Those late nights and long drives ultimately paid off. In June 2007, James relocated to Newark, Del., and commenced a seven-year run as the racecaller at Harrah's Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack. While at Philadelphia, he also served as the fill-in racecaller at Beulah Park, a Thoroughbred racetrack just outside Columbus, Ohio, between two and six afternoons a year.

After the 2013 season at Philadelphia concluded, James took on a more multi-faceted role for a pair of raceways in upstate New York: Tioga Downs, near Binghamton; and Vernon Downs, near Utica. Not only was James the lead broadcaster at both facilities, but he led a wholesale revitalization of the tracks' media offerings, bringing the tracks' public relations into the 21st century, enhancing handicapping resources for fans, and revamping the simulcast signals into robust broadcasts tailored to customers tuning in from off-track. He also took on additional print and digital media responsibilities at The Meadowlands in New Jersey, including writing morning line odds, detailed handicapping analysis for publication in the nightly program, and race recaps for industry and mainstream media outlets.


Retirement and shift to hockey

In the winter of 2017, after travelling on average 48 weekends a year each of the previous three years, James made the decision to retire from racecalling, in large part to be closer to his growing family. Post-retirement, James landed back at Harrah's Philadelphia in a more "behind the scenes" role, and he remains active in horse racing media as a freelance columnist, essayist, feature writer and copy editor.

That same winter, James also decided to pursue a deep-seated aspiration: hockey commentary. After spending the first 2-1/2 months of 2017 calling high school hockey in Delaware for a modest Internet radio audience, James became the radio voice of the University of Delaware's American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division 2 men's hockey team in September 2017 and maintains that post to this day. In the fall of 2019, he got "called up" to Delaware's Division 1 team, and also produces their live video stream through his Delaware Hockey Night platform in addition to his play-by-play duties.

James took a bigger leap into the digital media realm when he founded 412 Communications, a full-service media agency that specializes in copy writing and editing, public relations, web design, social media consultation and multimedia production for small businesses.


Personal life

James is a practicing Catholic, and serves as assistant organist at Holy Cross Parish in Dover, Del., where he attends mass weekly with his family.

He met his wife, Lauren, in 2011 while working with a band in Maryland. They began dating that summer, became engaged on a weekend trip to Chicago in September 2012, and got married in 2014 at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish in Indiana, Pa. — the same parish where Lauren was baptized and where her parents got married decades before. They live in Smyrna, Del., with their two daughters, Sara and Ashley.

James is a fan of live theatre, travel, microbreweries, and his beloved Pittsburgh Penguins. When not chasing his daughters around the neighbourhood, he stays active as a youth hockey referee.

Copyright 2021 James Witherite. All rights reserved.
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