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Eclectic roots musician Corey Harris '91 offers solo performance

Musician Corey Harris, who played a key role in Martin Scorsese’s 2003 PBS television series The Blues, performs at Bates at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 29, in the Olin Arts Center Concert Hall, 75 Russell St.

The concert is sold out. For more information, please contact 207-786-6135 or this olinarts@bates.edu.

Harris, a member of the Bates class of 1991 and recipient of an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Bates in 2007, is at the college for a seven-day residency that includes work with classes and individual students. His visit as a Bates learning associate is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation of New York City.

Harris is known for intrepid explorations of blues, jazz, reggae and other genres. Recipient of a 2007 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” he was described by the foundation as an artist who “forges an adventurous path marked by deliberate eclecticism. With one foot in tradition and the other in contemporary experimentation, he blends musical styles often considered separate and distinct to create something entirely new.”

“I’d like to call my music ‘diaspora rock,’ ” Harris told National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.” “I’m looking at my people who are black around the world, seeing what unites us musically, and trying to express that as a black American.”

Harris has played top venues including the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Lincoln Center in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He has performed in Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Japan and New Zealand.

In 2003, Harris was at the center of “Feel Like Going Home,” the debut episode of Scorsese’s PBS documentary series The Blues. For that episode he traveled to Mali to play with Ali Farka TourĂ©, a journey he repeated for his album Mississippi to Mali (Rounder, 2003), in which he explored connections between African music and the blues.

Born in Colorado, Harris first tasted the blues from his mother’s collection of Lightnin’ Hopkins records. He began playing trumpet at age 5, and at 12 turned to guitar.

At Bates, Harris majored in anthropology and spent time in West Africa, completing a senior thesis on pidgin English in Cameroon. While at Bates, Harris won a prestigious postgraduate Watson Fellowship that supported another extended visit to Cameroon after graduation. His time in Africa has significantly influenced his work, and his blues-based adaptations of African music have won national regard.

“This is what we as black Americans gave to the world: the concept of blues,” Harris said in a 2002 interview for Rounder Records. “But at the same time, I’m of a different generation. I didn’t ever have to go to the back of a bus.”

“So I’m trying to represent what my tradition is, and then represent my individual self in the movement.”

His first album, Between Midnight and Day, was released by Alligator Records in 1995. His second, Fish Ain’t Bitin’ (Alligator, 1997) won the W.C. Handy Award for best acoustic blues album. Also on Alligator he released Greens From the Garden (1999) and, with Henry Butler, Vu-Du Menz (2000). On Rounder, Harris’s recordings include Downhome Sophisticate (2002).

For his 2007 debut on Telarc, he released the widely acclaimed Zion Crossroads, which the magazine Global Rhythm called “one of the most vibrant reggae albums to be released this year.”

“I wanted to make a record that was all roots-oriented,” Harris says. He adds, “It’s a spiritual record, but at the same time, it’s talking about the crossroads — not just the crossroads that we all understand in the blues context, but in all the meanings of that word.”

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