No one who has seen the married duo of Kim and Reggie Harris in their hundreds of yearly folk-oriented performances, heard their spirited, purposeful CDs (the most recent six on Appleseed), or learned about the Underground Railroad and Black History through their special concerts and teacher training seminars would believe the upbeat couple was simultaneously battling Reggie’s ever-worsening, life-threatening autoimmune disease, which required a new liver. After 13 years, he was running out of time by 2008.
The Harrises’ new "Resurrection Day" joyfully answers the question, “What happened next?” The CD not only continues the duo’s commitment to recording uplifting songs of optimism, activism, and social justice, but it also presents eight new Reggie originals bursting with reinvigorated purpose. Written in the aftermath of his transplant and ongoing recovery, Reggie found his songs had “deepened in theme, subject matter, and in musical tone . . . they’re more direct but more personal.”
Reggie’s post-surgery songs can be as calm as a gentle awakening (“A new day is here…You’ve got a new race to run” he sings on the title track), as gutsy as the determined don’t-back-down encouragement of “Look ‘Em in the Eye,” and as empowering as “Butterfly” (“A butterfly flaps its wings/Something changes all over the world”). The latter song was co-written by the CD’s award-winning producer and primary instrumentalist, Ken Whiteley, whose son Ben handles the bass duties on most tracks. Kim and Reggie share and swap their trademark lead vocals and harmonies throughout the CD, and familiar contributing musicians include guitarist John Platania (ex-Van Morrison) and the Magpie vocal duo.
Joining the Harris originals are cover songs that share the CD’s theme of savoring and maximizing every moment. “Do What You Have to Do” is the album-opening declaration of purpose by one of their musical inspirations, the late Phil Ochs. Rachel Bissex, also deceased, was the source of “Never Go Back,” a vocal showcase for Kim that laments lost personal and political freedoms but glories in new possibilities. Kim also sings lead on the spiritual “Straighten ’Em.” The Depression-era classic “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum” is revived with a delightful Cajun flavor.
During the dozen-plus years of Reggie’s illness, the Harrises continued their coast-to-coast touring and educational programs, with Kim performing solo occasionally during Reggie’s recovery while working on her Ph.D from Union Theological Seminary. The Philadelphia-born African-American duo met at a summer camp as teens in 1974, soon started performing locally, married in 1976, and have been combining music, passion, activism and education in their presentations ever since. Their 1997 Appleseed CD, "Steal Away: Songs of the Underground Railroad," was called “a stunning recording” by folk bible Sing Out! magazine and has been used as a valuable teaching tool by various Underground Railroad and Black History programs. They have performed at such high-profile venues as the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Institute, the Philadelphia and Falcon Ridge Folk Festivals, and the Psalm Festival in Graz, Austria, and were recently honored by the non-profit “Americans Who Tell the Truth” organization and appeared in October 2012 as “featured tellers” at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn.