SPRING HILL — Gospel legend Larnelle Harris is coming to Spring Hill in February to perform with the Chancel Choir at First United Methodist Church.
Earlier this year, the award-winning singer-songwriter recorded a DVD/CD, Larnelle Live in Nashville. Harris will sing many of those songs, in his unique style, during his visit to Spring Hill.
But his concerts are about more than just "tickling your ear," he told the Times in a recent interview.
Harris, 66, refers to a prayer that he has said since he became a Christian in his early 20s: "Lord, now that I have your love in my heart, teach me how to give it away."
Giving it away is what the artist has successfully been doing, in both word and song, for nearly 40 years.
Gospel music charts have often displayed Harris' name at the top. He's had 19 No. 1 radio singles and countless Top 10 hits. Songs such as How Excellent is Thy Name, I Miss My Time With You, I've Just Seen Jesus, plus many others, including his signature song, Amen, are now considered modern classics among gospel music lovers.
In the process, Harris has garnered five Grammys, 18 Dove Awards, a Stellar Award and has the singular honor of being inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame while being a member of the Amateur Radio Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Recently, Harris joined two other Christian tenors, Steve Amerson and Steve Green, to give a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.
He sang at the White House for President and Mrs. Bush in 1992, was the first Christian artist to perform inside the Kremlin after the fall of the Soviet Union (as part of a project that distributed 4 million Russian New Testaments) and has sung on stages around the world, including in South Africa and entertaining U.S. troops at the border between North and South Korea in 2004.
In addition to his numerous solo dates, Harris travels with various tours, including the Gaither Homecoming tour and the Sandi Patty & Friends tour. This year, he joined the Ralph Carmichael Legacy Tour and toured with Patty and renowned pianist Dino on "The Big 3" Tour.
A humble man, Harris looks at his awards as tools that got him into those places, noting that reporters like to talk to people who have won Grammys.
"The Grammys and Doves are tools that God uses to help us get our feet in doors that we might not otherwise get in," he said. "I thank God for the opportunity that he gave me to be at all of those things. The awards have all been either tools or they have been encouragements."
Clearly, Harris has bragging rights. So what would induce the popular tenor to perform in a smaller venue in Hernando County?
"It will take the same energy. It takes the same prayer, and we're looking for the same result," he said. "I remember the first time I did the Billy Graham crusade. That morning, I sang in a little church that my wife and I were attending. The pastor asked me to sing a song that morning with the piano; there were probably 20 people. That night, there were 50,000. I learned a great lesson there. I worked just as hard that morning as I did that evening."
Harris hopes to use his concerts to inspire people toward a new relationship with Christ, or a deeper one.
"We get to celebrate this wonderful possibility of an experience that, if you take the journey, will last the rest of your life," he said.
A favorite song, Harris said, is one he wrote after he got home from performing at a Billy Graham crusade. Though the singing had gone well, he'd felt something was wrong at the crusade.
"Whatever this was nagged at me," he said, "so I sat at the piano and started to play and out came I Miss My Time With You. And I went, 'That's it!' God had me doing some inventory and was letting me see a principle here."
While he'd always known it was important to him to have time with the Lord each day, Harris said he hadn't realized that God missed him when he didn't take that time. He thought the song was meant just for him.
"I didn't even want to play it for the producers," he said. "But Greg Nelson, who produced that project, asked what I'd written lately, and I said, 'Well this little tune.' He said, 'Golly, yeah. We need people to hear that.' So we recorded it, and it was on the charts for about 10 weeks."
With Christmas on many people's minds, Harris has been taking the opportunity to share the gospel in secular settings, including at a recent Christmas concert in Kentucky with the Kentucky Orchestra.
"I was able to stand on that stage and do my Christmas thing," he said, demonstrating by singing the opening line from a popular Christmas song. "The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so ... you know and have some fun and show a side of Christianity that people think is not there ... and then I say to this crowd, 'You know what, Christmas is about a lot of things, not just about (shopping). It is about the grace that we've been given.' "
After a recent taping, Harris was approached by someone from a major television network who had become a new fan.
"(He) came up to me and said, 'Golly, I've never heard anybody sing like that, and you know what, that's the first time I heard you sing. I'd never heard of you.' I said, 'I never heard of you either,' " the singer said, laughing at the memory.
Then, being true to his prayer, Harris continued: "But I can tell you somebody that you have heard of. If you've ever heard a song on the radio, then you know about Jesus, and I'm more concerned that you know about Jesus than whether you know me."