SALEM, Va.-Rounder Records artist Corey Harris will perform in concert Friday, February 18 at 8 p.m. in Roanoke College's Colket Center Wortmann Ballroom. Tickets are $5 for this club-like performance and can be purchased at the Colket Center Information Desk by calling (540) 378-5125, or online. Seating is limited and doors open at 7:30 p.m. This event is sponsored by the college's Campus Activities Board in support of the Black History Month programs.
From the time singer/songwriter/guitarist Harris released his debut album, Between Midnight and Day, in 1995, he was hailed as one of the saviors of the acoustic blues tradition. His visionary 1997 follow-up, Fish Ain't Bitin', solidified his reputation as a ground breaking acoustic bluesman. "The class of the new acoustic blues singers," shouted the Village Voice. "A throwback to a lost era," raved Blues Revue. But that's not the way Harris sees it. "There's blues in me," says Harris, "but I'm not a bluesman. I just live to be a songwriter. I don't limit myself to playing just one type of thing. I try to put variety into what I do."
On November 18, 2004, Rounder Records released Mississippi to Mali. Like the first episode of Martin Scorsese's recent PBS series, "The Blues," hosted by Harris and entitled "Feels Like Going Home," Mississippi to Mali explores the heart of the blues, examining the African and African-American elements of the music. On Mississippi to Mali, his seventh album, Harris returns to his roots, but with a whole new spin. "I really approached this as a student," he says. "I was going to go out and learn something, and deepen my understanding of what it is I do, and why I'm doing it."
A native of Denver, Colorado, Harris fell in love with music at an early age and when his mother introduced him to the guitar and Lightnin' Hopkins at age 12, Harris found his true musical calling. He learned to sing and play by ear, listening to his favorite albums over and over again until he knew all the parts. He sang in church groups, played trumpet and then baritone in his junior high school marching band and played in a rock band in high school.
After attending Bates College in Maine, Harris, along with his newly acquired National steel guitar, left for Cameroon in West Africa in 1991. While there, Harris' love for acoustic blues grew. After returning to the United States, Harris moved to rural Louisiana and began teaching French and English in Belle Rose, all the while continuing to play his music and refine his craft by moonlighting as a street musician in nearby New Orleans. He quickly devoted his life to music full-time and before long was not only playing coffeehouses, but colleges and clubs as well.
Successful solo performances at festivals and clubs earned Harris more critical praise, which brought him more famous fans. When Billy Bragg told Natalie Merchant he wanted a blues singer for the Woody Guthrie project he was working on, she immediately brought him Harris. Bragg, Harris, Merchant and the band Wilco all hit it off. The resulting album, Mermaid Avenue (on which Harris plays guitar and sings on a few songs), received unanimous praise and was nominated for a Grammy Award. During those sessions, Harris sang and wrote music for a number of Guthrie lyrics, including the song "Teabag Blues," which, along with vocal help from Bragg, is included as a bonus track on Greens from the Garden.