Corey Harris ’91

Acclaimed for his brilliant, blues-based exploration of African diaspora music, singer-songwriter Corey Harris, a 1991 Bates graduate, began his musical journey with 1995’s Between Midnight and Day, a collection of traditional Delta blues songs performed with just voice and National steel guitar. “I’m grounded heavily in the blues, but I let everything influence me,” Harris told Bates Magazine in 1997. “I try to be as open as I can.”

A high-honors anthropology major at Bates, Harris won a postgraduate Watson Fellowship to study pidgin English in Cameroon (his senior thesis topic), then taught English and French in Napoleonville, La., traveling to New Orleans to perform on weekends. Music soon became his singular pursuit.

His second CD was Fish Ain’t Bitin’ (1997), winner of the 1998 W.C. Handy Award for best acoustic blues album, followed by the plugged-in Greens from the Garden (1999), Vu-Du Menz (2000), and Downhome Sophisticate (2002), the latter showcasing a dazzling command of styles. “[The CD] isn’t what you’d expect from a musician well versed in traditional blues,” wrote The Washington Post. “Unless it’s someone who also has a passion for the music of Jamaica and West Africa, the rhymes and rhythms of rap, the sensuous allure of Afro-Caribbean dances, the horn-charged funk of James Brown and the fiery, guitar-driven sonics of psychedelic rock.”

In 2003, director Martin Scorsese put Harris at the center of “Feel Like Going Home,” the debut episode of the PBS documentary The Blues, in which Harris traced American blues music to its African origins. Scorsese filmed Harris performing with the late, legendary guitarist Ali Farka Toure, an experience that led to the CD Mississippi to Mali, followed by Daily Bread in 2005.

Harris lives in Charlottesville, Va., where he is on the board of directors of the Field School, a middle school for boys opening in fall 2007.

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