You would never guess from her soft-spoken manner what an amazing singer Rutha Harris is. Her voice takes up an entire room and she certainly doesn’t need a microphone! But the best part about Ms. Harris is that she puts her voice toward a good cause. Ms. Harris was one of the founding members of the Freedom Singers during the Civil Rights Movement. They traveled the country spreading the word of the Civil Rights Movement through music.
Rutha Harris began singing in her church choir in Albany, GA at the age of six. Though she went to an all black school, her father, Minister Harris, shielded her from the evils of segregation. It wasn't until college that Rutha learned of the Civil Rights Movement. At age 23, she postponed her studies as a music major to join the Freedom Singers. The other three founding members are Cordell Reagon, Bernice Johnson Reagon, and Charles Nesblitt. The singers traveled to 46 states in 9 months promoting equal rights with the most powerful tools they had, their voices.
The freedom singers were formed to raise money for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Rutha was trained in nonviolence. This came in handy during her three arrests! But Rutha enjoyed being in jail. She sang for the police during her total of 14 days there. Happily, she was always released and could continue her work. Music was one of the key parts of the Civil Rights movement and the Freedom singers were an important source of that music.
During their time together, the Freedom Singers sang at many highly acclaimed places such as the Chicago Civic Opera House and Carnegie Hall. Also, they met many well known figures of the time, such as Martin Luther King Jr., who they worked with when they sang at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.
Rutha is now 72, and she still won't rest. On Monday, April 29, 2013, she visited History Colorado to participate in a panel on the importance of music and the arts to a movement. She gave everyone a taste of her fabulous singing and spoke of her unique experiences. Also, she has her own CD, and she sings every other Saturday in her hometown of Albany, GA.
"Without music, there wouldn't have been a movement!" Rutha stresses. "Songs give hope, and joy, and soothes the soul." And who would know better than the greatest of all the Civil Rights singers, Rutha M. Harris?