The Kennedy Center

Corey Harris


A native of Denver, Colorado, COREY HARRIS fell in love with music at an early age. He grew up watching his favorite music television shows and listening to the popular music of the day. But when his mother exposed him to a real guitar and the blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Harris—just twelve years old—found his true musical calling. He learned to sing and play by ear, listening to his favorite albums repeatedly until he knew every part. He sang in church groups, played trumpet and tuba in his junior high school marching band, and played in a rock band in high school.

After attending Bates College in Maine, Harris and his newly acquired National steel guitar, left for Cameroon in West Africa in 1991. While there, his love for acoustic blues grew, as did his understanding of the importance of the indigenous juju music. After returning to the United States, Harris moved to rural Louisiana and began teaching French and English. He continued playing his music and refining his craft by moonlighting as a street musician in nearby New Orleans, and soon afterwards performed at colleges and clubs.

Harris records and tours with his longtime band, The 5x5, featuring Vic Brown (bass), Johnnie Gilmore (drums), and Jamal Millner (second guitar). He also does duo and trio gigs with Millner and Rose, as well as powerful solo performances. Harris’ recording, Downhome Sophisticate, offers an array of textures, rhythms, ideas, and moods, all of them rich with associations and highly personal. Harris’s all-inclusive approach to songcraft is nothing less than a way of life. “A lot of the walls that we put up between one another-we’re conditioned to do that,” he says. “It’s in the media and in our education for us to look at all the differences and then conclude that there are these huge walls between us. But I really feel that as humans we all have one soul. We got one heart. We got one blood. As the world’s getting smaller, we’ve really got to learn about each other, and part of that is knowing where you’re coming form. So I think that by trying to figure out what’s inside of me musically and the heritage that I’ve got, that I can better live with others.” From the blueprint of the blues, Harris has made a world big enough for his own huge imagination, and for all of us.
Corey Harris