Wednesday Folk Traditions Presents: Evelyn Harris
June 18th, 2014
HADLEY – The Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum continues its 33rd season of Wednesday Folk Traditions on June 18, 2014, with Evelyn Harris. A powerhouse vocalist and former member of Sweet Honey In the Rock, Evelyn Harris is a Grammy nominated composer whose remarkable instrument creates stirring interpretations of the traditional African-American song canon. Her performance encompasses spirituals, freedom songs, jazz, pop, rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, and the blues. This and all other performances are held Wednesday evenings at 6:30 pm in the Sunken Garden at the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum, 130 River Drive, Route 47, Hadley, MA 01035. General admission is $10, or $2 for children 16 and under. Picnickers are welcome on the museum grounds beginning at 5:00 pm. The Museum and grounds are a smoke free site.
Harris hails from Richmond, Virginia, where she grew up in the church – the same place she started singing. “You started in church,” Harris remarks, and her musical style and her later ensemble collaborations reflect the gospel style. Harris went on to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., a historically black Institution, where she studied music, majoring in Voice. After her graduation, she joined the then newly-formed black women’s a cappella ensemble group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, performing with them for the first time in 1974.
Over the course of her eighteen-year stint in the internationally-acclaimed Sweet Honey in the Rock, she not only acted as a singer and member of the group, but her experience informed her growth as a composer and arranger. Harris also co-produced nine of the ensemble’s albums. In 1988, one of Harris’ original compositions, “State of Emergency,” from the group’s album Live at Carnegie Hall, was nominated for a Grammy Award. The powerful song speaks to the urgency of ending the apartheid in South Africa, a system of racial segregation that ultimately ended in 1994 with the advent of general democratic elections.
Following her retirement from Sweet Honey, Harris decided to step out on her own as a solo performer. “It’s very different from being in a group,” says Harris, “You have to balance your time between craft and business.” Harris’ multiple roles in multiple capacities during her time in Sweet Honey and the Rock have clearly contributed to her success as a solo performer; she now performs around the Pioneer Valley at various venues, sometimes a cappella, sometimes with a trio, usually showcasing her jazz repertoire. Harris certainly hasn’t shirked her commitment to continuing to develop her own musicality, though, as an individual artist: “I’ve gotten better, hopefully, since I left [Sweet Honey in the Rock],” she jokes. “I still study with a voice coach.”
Now, Harris devotes much of her time to coaching others as well, currently the Director of the Ku’umba Women’s Choir through the Northampton Community Music Center. The word “ku’umba” is a Swahili word that means “to create.” Harris’ view of her music is that of wonder and discovery, and notes her commitment to giving back: “Singing is my giving back with thanks and praise,” she notes. She draws on a variety of different styles as a solo performer, including jazz, pop, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, African-American song styles and gospel, never forgetting her roots but always building upon them. Harris will be showcasing her talents a cappella at the Porter-Phelps Huntington museum on June 18.
For more information, visit Evelyn Harris' website.