Lloyd Harris Jr. still sharing his music
29th July 2013 · 0 Comments
By Kelly Parker
This coming weekend, we celebrate one of the world’s must beloved musicians—our very own Louis Armstrong, by way of Satchmo Fest. Armstrong influenced many locals not only to pursue music, but to share that love with generations to follow.
The love affair with music for many local students likely began in a classroom headed by Lloyd L. Harris, Jr. Harris, just last year celebrated 50 years as a composer, conductor, and music educator. He was inducted into the Louisiana Music Educators Association Hall of Fame back in 1996.
Harris’ first piano lesson was at the age of four from a neighbor; tutelage that would continue throughout his years as a high school student at Walter L. Cohen and then as a drum major at Xavier University.
“Along with the piano, I now play the saxophone, and the clarinet…I play all of em’, really. I wanted to be like Nat King Cole,” Harris says with a big smile. “I wanted to sing and play my keyboard.”
Harris’ stage would be that of a classroom, instructing young people. Harris’ teaching journey made stops at such schools as Valena C. Jones Elementary, McDonogh 35 Sr. High, Boyet Jr. High in Slidell, and Eleanor McMain, just to name a few. Over the years, he has been invited as guest conductor for music programs at Warren Easton High School, Carter G. Woodson Middle School, Samuel Green Middle School, and the Xavier University concert band. Harris has also traveled to facilitate music workshops across the country.
His most significant feat is likely the accomplishment while at Alfred Lawless Jr. High in the late 1960s. The Lawless Jr. High School Concert Band was the first African-American band to receive the Superior Sweepstakes State Band award in the Louisiana Music Educators Association Competition.
“We went to Southeastern in Hammond, and they walked out,” Harris says. “Everybody walked out of the auditorium. But they (students) had been trained, by their principal, ‘if they throw eggs at you, you play.’”
At that time, no African-American bands entered the Louisiana Music Education Association Annual Competition. The band took home the award in 1967, 1968 and 1969.
Under Harris’s direction, Lawless was the first Jr. High band to participate in the Pegasus parade-at the time, junior high bands weren’t allowed to march in parades. “But Lawless did,” he says.
“In 1962 when I first started teaching, it was tough—Black schools had nothing,” Harris states. “But I worked extremely hard; Valena C. Jones, in my first year, went to a festival and won, but nothing came easy.”
Harris also spent time as a song writer and producer; helping such popular groups as Chocolate Milk.
“I put the group together, in 1970. They didn’t have any instruments, and I had a job, so I took them on and worked with them until after their first album.”
Now 73, Harris has returned to elementary school, working with future musicians at Hynes Charter School in Lakeview.
He feels his place in area schools is more important now than in the past; with the hope of inspiring young people by sharing the story of his Lawless band’s accomplishments.
“I’m doing this because our kids still need this, they need this guidance and focus,” he added. “Music is such a good tool for that. I’d like to work with more of our schools here in the city—I’d go from school to school if I could. I don’t think I’m done yet.”
This article originally published in the July 29, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.