Whenever singer-songwriter, educator, and peace activist Reggie Harris steps onto a stage, it’s always with an infectious smile and with an air of gratitude around him.
You know, as an audience, you’re about to experience a great show.
Harris will perform Nov. 19, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Edgewood United Church as a part of the Ten Pound Fiddle’s Alternative Sale and Concert in conjunction with the Peace Education Center’s Alternative Holiday Sale.
In addition to being a singer-songwriter, Harris is a passionate teacher and advocate for Civil Rights, who has been affiliated with the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts Program (CETA) and the Council of Independent Colleges lecture program.
He also serves as Co-President and Director of Music Education for the Living Legacy Project, an advocacy group that sponsors Civil Rights pilgrimages throughout the South. He is the 2021 winner of the Spirit of Folk Award from the Folk Alliance and the W.E.B DuBois Legacy Award.
As far as what inspired Harris to get into music, the list of influences is a “who’s-who” of folk giants, and, as with most musicians, Harris’ love of music was born in his bedroom.
“Singing came easy to me and harmonizing, first with my mom and sister around our piano and then in choirs at church and school, has always come easy too. Music provided me with a deep sense of joy – deeper than anything else in life,” Harris said.
“But my musical influences range from people I heard singing growing up (whose names no one would ever know), to the famous voices of Harry Belafonte, Sam Cooke, the Beatles, Mahalia Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin. I remember the night I heard James Taylor sing Fire and Rain on the radio in my senior year of high school. It went right to my heart in that darkened bedroom and I never forgot it. It woke something up in me that came fully alive when I was challenged to learn to play the guitar in 1974 by my then girlfriend, Sharon,” he explained.
“My influences cover the gamut of all musical genres and are not limited to just singers or guitarists. It’s clear to me now that even though I never thought about being a performer growing up, being a musician is what I was placed on earth to be,” Harris added.
The self-described “reluctant peace activist,” felt the call to activism after the riots in Chicago and Detroit, and a speech by author James Baldwin spurred Harris into action.
“In my high school years, there were riots in Philadelphia, Detroit and around the country, and I’d noticed that all things were not fair and just. As I became a musician and started to travel across the nation, I began to see the world in a much wider way,” Harris said.
“The unrest, the protest songs, and the frustration of facing racism dead on and the injustices of every day started to weigh on me. Slowly that found its way into the songs we chose to sing, and I also had the examples of people like Pete Seeger, (who I had met) and Paul Robeson, Phil Ochs and others who were singing and people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Reverend Leon Sullivan and Jesse Jackson who were speaking to inspire me.”
The Ten Pound Fiddle’s Booking Agent, Sally Potter, is excited to have Harris in East Lansing and performing again live before an audience,
“The Fiddle loves to book Reggie Harris, either at the Singing Festival or for a regular show,” Potter said. “This weekend is the Peace Center’s annual Alternative Holiday Sale, so Reggie Harris is the perfect fit for the Friday night show we co-produce at Edgewood.”
“His most recent recording is amazing, full of energy and hope. I can’t wait to hear those songs live,” Potter added. “This will be his ninth show of the Fiddle’s 47th season.”
Harris’s latest album, “On Solid Ground,” is a tour de force on songs based on the recent civil unrest worldwide in 2020 that focused on racial inequality. Each song is powerful and packed with emotion.
“On Solid Ground was born as my response to the issues, emotions and issues that were brought to the fore during the pandemic and to what I have learned over these years of travel, reading and touring,” Harris said.
“The title cut was the first song I wrote in the pandemic after I started doing online concerts. I saw fear, anxiety, uncertainty, anger, and devastation present all over the world and particularly here in America,” he explained.
“After seeing George Floyd murdered, the deaths of Breonna Taylor and too many others, and feeling anger rising in protests with people flooding into the streets with a new awareness of history, songs began coming out of me,” Harris said.
As with most musicians these days, Harris is happy to be back on the road, albeit with a little more caution this time around due to the pandemic.
“I did my first live public performance again in May 2021, and I will admit that it felt very weird and a little scary,” Harris said. “It had been a long time since I’d been in a room with more than four people, let alone standing on a stage singing live into a room full of people. Thoughts of catching Covid were hard to shake. But with a few more concerts over the summer – and now more as the months come – taking sensible precautions and protocols, I’m getting comfortable.”
In addition to the concert by Harris, there will be an Alternative Holiday Gift Sale sponsored by the Peace Education Center at Edgewood Church on Nov. 19 and 20, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both days.
The event supports small businesses, nonprofit groups, and fair-trade cooperatives.
Homemade items will be available for sale, including books, cards, socks, soap, and knitted items as well as consumables, such as coffee and candy. Local print makers, painters, artists, and silversmiths will also be selling their artwork.
Edgewood United Church is located at 469 Hagadorn Rd. For the show, vaccination cards (a phone photo is fine) and masks are required.
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