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Allan Harris, Black Cowboy?

Daniel Kassell By

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40% of Cowboys were Black! —Musical Creator, Allan Harris
"Did you know that 40% of all cowboys were Black!" Allan Harris told the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in the NY Hilton's Mercury Ballroom, January 12th, 2003 at a showcase sponsored by the Berkshire Artists Group.

Primarily a Jazz Vocalist and Guitarist, Allan Harris was inspired to write "Cross That River - The Saga of a Black Cowboy" because "I?m a Wild West buff", so he's mixed bluegrass, gospel and some jazz talk in the spirit of the African Griot. "Blue", the main character begins his journey by stealing his master's stud horse meeting other escaped Black, Native American, Creole, Spanish and Mexican men and women with tales of their own.

At B.B.Kings free show (independently produced by James Larsen), radio DJ Sheila Anderson intro'd Allan Harris to a stuffed house of 300 friends and APAP entertainment buyers. Wearing a black cowboy hat, heifer calf fur panels on a black leather jacket, black jeans, black open collar shirt, plain black dress boots, he tuned his amplified acoustic Washburn-Stevens cutaway guitar as feather fetishes and a Native American dream catcher dangled from the fretboard. Allan is a large barrel-chested man, full-faced with a pencil mustache and usually a smile. His musical campanions tonight are Bob Corroon-mandolin & harmonica, Russell Farhang-amplified violin, Miles Okazaki-electric guitar, John Flaughers, electric bass-Ulysses Owens-drums and backup vocalists-Tim Ellis, Arlee Leonard and Maya Azucena.

The first song poses Blue's first obstacle "Cross That River" into freedom musicallly told by Matt Smith's dobro. "Blue Was Angry" tells his tragic story in song, "Mail Order Bride" describes women's plight; "Diamond Jimmy" is a card shark; "Dark Spanish Lady", an age old Mexican ballad; "Mule Skinner" another tragic tale of death along a western trail and a dream of lost love.

Just like the original storytelling slave guitar pickers, later popularized by Woodie Guthrie then Bob Dylan who morphed stories into high energy Rock n Roll, Allan's travelogue of Florida's Indians ending up in Oklahoma and Texas as "Black Seminoles" captivates us with American history. Jo Jo is the aging gunslinger in "One More Notch"; "Dat Dere Preacher combines a funk beat under a Stephen Foster song with a gospel vocal. When Native Americans were discharged and went west they became known as "Buffalo soldiers" because they were tough, wore a uniform and had long black wooly hair. During this musical reel the audience just went wild, clapping along.

We believe Allan's stories in song because Hollywood has already perpetuated all the worst character traits of each race. I'm troubled by the descriptive references in his dialogue and promo to: "an African American", "Creole", "part Spanish", "touch of Cherokee" because they pander to just the racism this presentation is attempting to illuminate through music and lyrics. Are all these peoples ready to proudly proclaim their genealogic heritage?

If we were in Nashville the cowboy hat might be the same, the rhythm background from the same musical well and any number of country singers still favor western tales but it's Allan Harris's personal enthusiasm and sense of purpose that will overcome this sensitive issue if he develops this into a theatrical "Saga". For more go to www.allanharris.com .


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