Savannah Black Heritage Festival Partners to present Cross That River on Feb. 28

Members of Cross That River band
Members of Cross That River band

Raised in Brooklyn, Allan Harris was surrounded by music as a child: his mother was a classical pianist and his aunt was an opera and blues singer. Harris, who decided to become a musician at the age of eight, spent a lot of his childhood time at his grandfather’s farm in Western Pennsylvania where he engaged in other favorite pastimes – riding horses and watching Western movies. But Harris noticed most of the Westerns he watched lacked one thing: a person of color.

The oversight inspired Harris, now a successful New York-based jazz vocalist, to create and write Cross That River, which tells the story of African- American cowboys. Harris and his Cross That River Band will bring the story to Savannah on Feb. 28 as part of the 2009 Savannah Black Heritage Festival, presented by the city of Savannah and Savannah State University. Sponsored by the Savannah Music Festival and First Bryan Baptist Church, Harris will perform at 2 p.m. at First Bryan Baptist Church, located 575 West Bryan Street.

Cross That River is the first recording in a trilogy that tells the story of the Black West. Through narrative and song unfolds the story of a 19th century escaped slave named Blue who makes his way to freedom and works as a cowboy on the Circle T Ranch. Though best known as a jazz singer, Harris’ warm vocals are a natural fit for the tale’s Western setting. The band includes violin, bass, percussion, guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro and backup singers, all of which create music reflective of country, gospel, Spanish, R&B and Celtic genres.

Cross That River debuted in 2006 at the Kennedy Center for Country Music Week. Harris and Cross That River are the recipients of the esteemed 2006-07 Chamber Music America Residency Grant Award. Three of his songs from the production were selected and licensed for the Oklahoma State Education DVD to help educate the state’s children about the Black West.

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