Black History Month: Larnelle Harris: Vocalist and songwriter
Larnelle Harris was born July 6, 1947, in Danville, Ky., and moved to Louisville at an early age. At the age of 9, he learned to play the drums. His first formal vocal training came when attended Western Kentucky University and graduated in 1969. He toured as a drummer with a band named the Spurrlows from 1970 to 1972. After a brief stint with a Christian rock band, he embarked on what would become a highly successful solo career. “Rather than recording in the genre of black gospel, Harris is often credited with helping speed integration in the traditionally white-dominated branch of inspirational music, was one of the first black vocalists to be accepted in the emerging genre of contemporary Christian music.” (The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia, University Press of Kentucky, 2015) Except for a three-year tour in the mid-1980s with Bill Gaither and the Gaither Vocal Band, he remained an independent solo artist for the most of his career. In 1983, Harris won a Grammy Award for a duet with Sandi Patti in the song “More Than Wonderful.” He was the recipient of three more Grammy Awards as a solo artist and 11 Dove Awards for three albums. He was named Male Vocalist of the Year in 1983, 1986, and 1988, and Songwriter of the Year in 1988. It was during this time that he toured with the Billy Graham Evangelism Crusade and appeared on numerous television programs, including Bill Gaither’s. In 1992, his song “Mighty Spirit” was featured in a public service announcement by the Points of Light Foundation. The song won that year’s Silver Bell Award for Distinguished Public Service, and he was invited to the White House by President George H.W. Bush. He became the first American Christian artist to perform inside the Kremlin after the fall of the Soviet Union. He became the first Christian singer to receive the Kentucky Governor’s Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. This prestigious award is given annually to Kentuckians who have made significant contributions to the arts in the commonwealth, across the country, and around the world. Harris is the only person in history to be a member of three distinct hall of fame organizations: The Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and the Amateur Radio Hall Fame. He is a member of Western Kentucky Hall of Distinguished Alumni and received an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts from Western Kentucky University in 2008 and an honorary doctorate of music from Campbellsville University. He was a soloist at the inaugural worship service for Gov. Matt Bevin on Dec. 8, 2015. He continues to tour worldwide, recently performing at Carnegie Hall and in Paris, France. During his busy schedule he has served as treasurer and later a deacon at Maple Grove Baptist Church. He is married to Cynthia “Mitzi” and they are the parents of two children, Larnelle Jr. and Teresa. References The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia, University Press of Kentucky, 2015. WKU Spirit, Spring 2015. Writer’s note: Larnelle Harris is a favorite vocalist of mine. He sings with clarity and sincerity and that is what inspires us to listen. Each song has a message. “Sing a new song to the Lord! Sing it everywhere around the world! “Sing out His praises! Bless His name. Each day tell someone He saves.” Psalms 96:1,2 (Living Bible). Congratulations to Larnelle Harris for his achievements in the arts.