Larnelle Harris: The notes that shaped his life

Larnelle Harris
Larnelle Harris

Larnelle Harris has a different perspective now than he once did.

“As I’ve gotten older … I saw a picture in a magazine,” Harris shares. “It was a picture of a turtle on a fence post. When I first saw it, I didn’t think much about it. Then, I started to think about the people in Danville, Ky., and how they’ve spoke things into my life. Then, when I saw it again, I started thinking about it. The turtle doesn’t get on the fence post on his own. I started thinking about the people over the years and those who are still speaking, people who spoke a dream into my heart as a little kid. I didn’t see it as a kid. As I got older, I began to see that.”


Now, Harris is speaking … well, he’s letting his words do the talking anyway.


He released his first book on Feb. 6, “Shaped Notes: How Ordinary People with Extraordinary Gifts Influenced My Life and Career.” He wrote the book along with Christine Schaub.


“People who are close to me, who should be in the book, have talked about that for years,” Harris says of writing a book. “What am I going to tell them? ‘My name is Larnelle Harris. I grew up in Danville, Kent. My parents’ names were’ … there’s nothing to see here.


“I was at the Governor’s Mansion (in Frankfort, Kent.). I had been given an award. One of the ladies from Danville said, ‘Whatcha got coming up?’ I said, ‘I’m thinking about writing a book.’


Larnelle HarrisShe said, ‘You haven’t lived long enough to write a book.’ I said, ‘I know, but I want to take this opportunity to just say thank you to them, to those people who have spoke into my life.’”

One of those individuals who spoke into his life came along early on.

“Mrs. Georgia Donehy … Mrs. Georgie played the piano and organ for the church choir,” Harris explains. “She taught piano lessons to every kid in town, whether they wanted them or not. I didn’t want them at first.

“She found out there was a little hidden boy soprano in here, and she started taking me around different places to sing. I did a concert in our church when I was nine years old, and she played the piano. She didn’t want anything. Then, she passed on, and somebody else came along. It’s a wonderful exercise for everybody. We’ve all had those people.”

Larnelle summarizes the purpose of the book in two words.

Larnelle Harris“There are two little words we don’t use enough,” Harris points out. “It seems like as we go up in generation, we use it less and less. Thank you … that’s what it’s about.

“Mrs. Georgie used to get on my last nerve. She said to my mom one time, ‘you should not let Larnelle play any sports out in the dust, because the dust will hurt his voice.’ But, now, I hope that every town, city, parish has a Mrs. Georgie in it.”

Harris attempts to honor Mrs. Georgie during his concerts.

“I do a package of songs in concert to Mrs. Georgie,” Harris notes. “I wanted to do some songs that I did in that first concert with Mrs. Georgie in the First Baptist Church in Danville, Ky.

“This book is very little about Larnelle, but it is about the process of God putting people in your life, to take you to the next plateau. It’s about those people who guide you who don’t want a thing. Mrs. Georgie had no idea what the future would be for me.”

The future consisted of a stint with the Spurrlows – a group of 8-10 vocalists along with a band – during his college years. The ensemble performed driver-safety programs for the Chrysler organization and would then do a concert that evening in that same area. Harris initially played the drums for the Spurrlows.

Larnelle Harris“We saw many young persons come to the Lord as a result of hearing that music,” Harris recalls. “It was much different than most Christian music, and they gravitated towards it.

“We all sang and played these instruments. The band became a rock group called First Gear, but we were too out there to do churches.”

Harris became the front man for First Gear.

Then, he joined the Gaither Vocal Band in 1983 and remained there until 1987.

“It is still a fraternity,” Harris says. “Those guys are like brothers to me. I like to be a part of things that are way past music. Sandi (Patty) and I have that type of relationship. Bill (Gaither) and I have that type of relationship.”


He’s been in solo ministry for the last 31 years, performing approximately 40 dates per year.

“It can be difficult,” the 70-year-old points out. “It can be difficult physically, because there’s nobody but you. That’s a challenge, to stay in shape (vocally).

April 2018 SGNScoops Magazine
April 2018 SGNScoops Magazine

“It’s a very sweet, wonderful thing. You’re able to say exactly where you are, what you are dealing with and what you want to convey with the people that God has put in your influence.”

Following a scare earlier in his career, Harris places a heavy emphasis on his vocal health.

“I was a voice major in school,” Harris explains. “You just have to take care of it. If you understand the mechanics, you kind of understand the pitfalls.

“Years ago, I had the formation of nodules. I had sung myself to death. When we sung in these high schools (with the Spurrlows and First Gear), sometimes, we would do two or three concerts at the high school and then do the night singing. That’s a lot of singing.”

The wear on his voice took its toll.

“I had to rest a year,” Harris remembers. “I started going to doctors and speech pathologists. That was a very dark time. I really started bathing in the word and had a year to do it. At the end of that time, God began to reveal what that was all about. That wasn’t about voice. I was trusting in voice and singing. God wanted me to trust in him. It was during that time that I learned a great lesson. I learned that God is the source.

“Larnelle doesn’t have a source. I have a dependency on the Lord Jesus. He taught me that through that time. Near the end of all of that, I was able to say this … ‘Lord if you are going to allow my voice to be taken, then, you must have something awfully good coming.’ That was the trust I needed. I believe God was preparing me, as he prepares all of us. This is a tough world.

Larnelle Harris“There’s nothing easy out here. We need to be dependent on him. We have no dependency on our own. It’s dependency on his own (sufficiency). From there until now, the Lord put something in my heart and teaches me how to give it away. I’m no longer hooked on singing.”

However, many have been hooked on the book. It moved to the top spot on the Amazon book rankings within four days of its release date.

The writing process evoked a wide range of emotions at different times, resulting in details that he hopes readers will enjoy.

“I sat on the porch one night, and I was writing and doing some notes with (my co-author) Christine,” Harris – a Louisville, Ky., resident – shares. “I sat there and was writing something that had to do with my kids. They are grown. All of a sudden, it hit me. My parents, most of the time shortly after I graduated from college, had no idea where I was in the country. I thought about what that did to them. I was in a group traveling all over the country and doing Christian concerts. I wondered what that I did to them. I had to quit. I cried like a baby. It was one of those times … I said, ‘I should have called them more.’ It’s what I would have wanted from my kids. I just took off. I know (now) how that affected me (as a parent).

Larnelle Harris“Then, there were fun times too though.”

By Craig Harris

Read more about Larnell here.

First published by SGNScoops Magazine in April 2018

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