“His Eye Is on the Sparrow” (C.D. Martin, C.H. Gabriel), 1905
Soul Stirrers (feat. R.H. Harris), 1946
Gladys Knight, live, Washington, D.C., 2017
I could live five hundred years and never tire of hearing this voice.
Soul Stirrers (feat. R. H. Harris [1916-2000], lead vocals), “Lord, I’ve Tried” (T. A. Dorsey), 1946
Photograph by Robert Frank (1924-).
Bela Bartok (1881-1945), Piano Concerto No. 1 (1926); Orchestre de Paris (Pierre Boulez, cond.) with Maurizio Pollini (piano), live, Paris, 2001
In this city there is no segregation: Bela Bartok lives down the block from R. H. Harris, Morton Feldman around the corner from D’Angelo.
“His Eye Is on the Sparrow” (C. Martin, C. Gabriel)
Soul Stirrers (feat. R. H. Harris, lead vocals), recording, 1946
Harmonizing Four (feat. Jimmy Jones, bass), recording, 1958
Kathleen Battle, Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.), live, Vienna, 1983
random thoughts: New Year’s resolution #2
Take nothing for granted.
Soul Stirrers (featuring R. H. Harris), “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” (1946)Vodpod videos no longer available.
When R. H. Harris, the renowned gospel tenor, died last month, I went back to the records he had made in the 1950’s with his quartet, the Soul Stirrers. Harris was the — founder is not too strong a word — of a soul singing that concentrated on supple phrasing and tonal sweetness. He could, as Tina Turner used to say, ”do it rough,” but there was a core of reticence, even melancholy in him. His roughness was strategic.
The Soul Stirrers set the mold for other outstanding quartets like the Swan Silvertones and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, and for younger soul singers, from Sam Cooke (trained by Harris) to David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations (Harris had mastered husky rhythm singing and falsetto), and Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye.
The discipline required of a first-rate ensemble, vocal or instrumental, translates into the kind of musical discretion that comes only from intense on-the-spot listening. Not biding time or doing cute things onstage until your solo comes, but listening. Take melisma (one syllable stretched over many notes), the vocal weapon so battered and abused by pop singers today. Harris was a master of it. For him it was a musical resource, like dynamics or timbre, not a way of muscling listeners to the ground till they screamed and clapped, maybe because they were overpowered, maybe just to stop the madness.
The Soul Stirrers’ a cappella harmonies are deeply satisfying. And when Harris rises above them with his pure, true pitch (pitch is usually the missing element in today’s melisma mania), you will experience true bliss.
—Margo Jefferson, New York Times, 10/2/00
The self never ages.
—Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary (trans. Richard Howard, 2010)
Someone could offer me a million dollars to forget this voice and I still couldn’t do it.
The Soul Stirrers featuring R.H. Harris
“Walk Around” (1939)
“Lord I’ve Tried” (1946)
“I Want To Rest” (1946)
“I’m Willing To Run” (1947)
“He [R.H. Harris] was The Man – the guy everyone tried to sound like,” says gospel historian Anthony Heilbut. “If you’ve been to a black church or listened to R&B music, you’ve heard the influence of R.H. Harris.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame made the Soul Stirrers its first gospel inductees in 1989.
Musically, Harris and the Soul Stirrers helped shape gospel’s transition from the old “jubilee” a cappella style into the “quartet” style, with a more distinct lead voice and musical parts.
Harris sang in a striking high voice Heilbut calls “a combination of gospel moans, cowboy yodels and a clear Irish tenor.”
Harris helped found the Soul Stirrers in Texas in the 1930s. When he left in 1950, Cooke took over as lead singer and always called Harris his major stylistic influence. He then passed the style to the likes of Al Green.—David Hinckley, New York Daily News, September 6, 2000 (obituary)