The Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum concludes its 35th season of Wednesday Folk Traditions on July 20, 2016, with Evelyn Harris and Dionne McClain-Freeney in our 7th annual Horace Clarence Boyer Memorial Concert. A powerhouse vocalist and former member of “Sweet Honey In the Rock,” Evelyn Harris is a Grammy nominated composer who 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. She will be accompanied by New York City pianist and composer Dionne McClai-Freeney.
Evelyn Harris hails from Richmond, Virginia, where her experiences singing in church led her to develop a love of music. Harris’s musical style and her later ensemble collaborations reflect the gospel genre that originally inspired her. Harris went on to major in Voice at Howard University in Washington, D.C., a Historically Black Institution. 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. In 1988, one of Harris’ original compositions for the group, “State of Emergency,” from the album Live at Carnegie Hall, was nominated for a Grammy. The powerful song speaks to the urgency of ending the apartheid in South Africa, a system of racial segregation that ultimately ended in 1994.
Over the course of her eighteen-years as a member of internationally-acclaimed Sweet Honey in the Rock, Harris’s experiences informed her own growth as a composer and arranger. As a solo performer, she draws on a variety of different styles including jazz, pop, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, African-American song styles and gospel, never forgetting her roots but always building upon them. “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 Sweet Honey and the Rock have contributed to her success as a solo performer.
Harris now performs throughout the Pioneer Valley. She also devotes much of her time to coaching others, currently acting as 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.
For her Wednesday Folk Tradition’s performance on July 20th, Evelyn Harris will be joined by pianist, composer, singer, choral director, and teaching artist, Dionne McClain-Freeney. McClain-Freeney is the composer and lyricist of the acclaimed musical, and winner of Best Ensemble Performance at the New York Musical Theater Festival, This One Girl’s Story. She is also a frequent artist in France’s Absolute Gospel Festival, and at some of New York’s most loved venues and churches.
This annual memorial performance commemorates the life and work of the late Horace Clarence Boyer, a beloved and internationally acclaimed musician and scholar of Gospel Music. Dr. Boyer, who for 25 years presented an annual gospel performance at the museum, was a pivotal member of the Pioneer Valley musical community, a long-time professor at UMass, and minister of music at the Goodwin Memorial African Methodist Episcopalian Church. Boyer often performed with the groups he introduced, and he cited as part of his mission nurturing Gospel here in the Valley and throughout the world. The museum aims to further that goal with this memorial series, continuing the tradition he supported and preserving his legacy.