James A. “Jim” Sutherland, 56: Had room for jazz and journalism in his life

After nearly 20 years as a broadcast journalist, Jim Sutherland realized his beloved industry wasn’t what it used to be. A staunch humanitarian, he dedicated his life to stories that brought awareness to underserved and underrepresented populations, but there came a point when he realized his messages were not reaching his audience.

“My brother was very disillusioned with media today,” David Sutherland said. “He made a distinction between the message and the media, and he felt like we were losing what was important and what we needed to be telling people. He felt pop culture invaded broadcast news. He had to step away from that.”

In 1999, Jim Sutherland Media was born, and he spent the rest of his life helping people get their messages out into the world, this time using the Internet and social media.

James Alan Sutherland, of Atlanta, died May 27, from complications of a pulmonary embolism. He was 56. His funeral was held Saturday at First United Methodist Church, Bartow, Fla. Whidden-McLean Funeral Home, Bartow, was in charge of arrangements.

Sutherland’s media career covered several continents and news organizations. An Oklahoma native, his career began shortly after he graduated from the University of Florida in 1980, where he majored in journalism and minored in history. It was at his first television station in Florida that he won a coveted Peabody Award in 1983, for a documentary about the enslavement of migrant farm workers in Florida, his brother said. From there he came to Atlanta and worked for CNN and later WSB-TV, and The Weather Channel, to name a few of his former employers. But his time in Atlanta wasn’t solely dedicated to broadcast news, friends and family said.

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“For a lot of us in this business, (journalism) is how we identify ourselves,” said Brad Hodges, a senior producer at CNN. “But for Jim, it really was just an aspect of who he was. And I think there is a lesson there.”

Many nights a week, Sutherland could be found at one of several live music venues, playing his trumpet on the straight-ahead jazz scene. On Tuesdays he could often be found playing with Danny Harper at Churchill Grounds in Midtown.

“Sometimes I liked to sit back and listen to him play and not join in,” Harper said. “I think what he liked most about jazz was the opportunity to be creative.”

Sutherland was as serious about his music as he was about his journalism. He took lessons from Harper’s brother, jazz trumpet player Philip Harper, who said Sutherland was far more like a brother than a friend.

“It is because of Jim I’m doing what I’m doing right now,” said Harper, who now lives in New York. “When I lived there I was going through a bad period of my life, I got a little bit underneath. And Jim helped bring me out of that. He, literally, saved my life on several occasions.”

Saxophonist Syl Spann said Sutherland’s “genuine interest in people” served him well in journalism and jazz.

“He was interested in life, whether it was doing documentaries or learning how to play,” he said. “But his sincerity is what really stood out.”

In addition to his brother, Sutherland is survived by his son, James Alan Sutherland II of Atlanta; parents, David E. and Katherine Sutherland of Bartow, Fla.; and sisters, Susan Wilcockson of Lakeland, Fla. and Holly Ann Sutherland of Columbus.

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