In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with Reggie Harris, who is a singer, songwriter, and storyteller on a mission to educate, entertain, and inspire. For over 40 years, he has performed all across the US, Canada, and Europe as half of the duo Kim & Reggie Harris. Though Kim has curtailed her performance career, Reggie continues to criss-cross the country. His goal is to carry a message of joy, unity, tolerance and peace through the medium of live music. Known for his powerful voice and guitar, the depth and insight of his songwriting, and his deep knowledge of traditional African American spirituals and freedom songs, Reggie remains in high demand as a concert artist. He also performs at festivals and at schools, accepts University residencies, and teaches workshops on songwriting, community building, race relations, and performance. A partial list includes the Kennedy Center Summer Education Institute, The Swannanoa Gathering, Boston’s Summer Acoustic Music Week (SAMW), the People’s Music Network, and the Southeastern Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute (SUUSI).
Many of us here at AFC have admired Reggie for years. In particular, his tours and recordings educating people about the Underground Railroad through song and story have made an important contribution to countless Americans’ understanding of African American history. We knew that Reggie included a lot of traditional songs in his repertoire, from labor songs to spirituals. So we thought it would be fun to ask Reggie to perform a set of mostly traditional songs, including a version of “Free at Last,” inspired by a version in the AFC archive…which made his concert also an example of an artist taking the Archive Challenge.
As a reminder, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we did these concerts in 2020 and 2021. Instead of doing live concerts in the Coolidge Auditorium and Whittall Pavilion, we asked the artists to produce concert videos, either solo or with whatever musicians they could safely work with in pandemic conditions. We got a great range of videos, from solo artists in their homes and studios, to bands who played outdoors while observing social distance guidelines, to artists who ventured out to beautiful locations to shoot fantastic videos. We think Reggie did a great job with his concert video. But don’t take our word for it…watch it in the player below!
In my conversation with Reggie, we talked about his own fascinating life as a musician, a student of history, and a civil rights activist. We also discussed some of the songs he sang, and focused in particular on the version “Free at Last” sung on our archival recording by Alberta Bradford and Becky Elzy, which I’ve done blogs and podcasts about–you can get to them all from this post. Watch the interview in the player below!
As always, thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.