By Tom Bostock
Another velvet-soft, soulful rhythm and blues single offering by locally-based talent, national recording star, (recently signed with the Orchard/Cross the Line Music, a division of SONY Music Entertainment – congratulations), actor, blues music icon, and song writer, Alex Harris, continues caressing the airways and his YouTube channel to the obvious delight of his many adoring fans, both local and world-wide, as it climbs to the top of the music charts. His latest song, another in a long series of chart-topping hits, is a plaintive, original, soul-searching ballad, “Make It Better,” written by Alex and a few of his talented fellow songwriter friends. Like his many other hits, “Make It Better” is as easy to relate to, as is to the man, Alex Harris and his message of hope.
Not an overnight, instant sensation, Alex paid his dues on his way to stardom. In his early years, his family gospel chorus, A7, first traveled the country sharing their gospel message before crossing over into rhythm and blues. He credits his mother for stimulating his patience and compassion and his preacher father for his leadership; elements easily identifiable in the tapestry of his current work, “Make It Better.”
In addition to his own gospel church background, and the encouragement of his family, Alex credits several other strong influences, mentors from his early years, singer/songwriters Michel Mathis, and Chris Willis with their influential assistance along his career path. He gives special recognition to Dr. Bobby Jones, whose long-running radio and television shows, The Bobby Jones Gospel Radio Show and The Bobby Jones Gospel Countdown are the yardstick by which all other gospel shows are measured today.
Asked about the style of his songs, Alex noted, in our recent interview, that, “I want to write something that raises the awareness of how much we need each other;” It is clearly present in the lyrics of his latest song. Each powerful line is an effort, as Alex says of the reason for not just this one but all of his songs, to answer one of the motivating questions in his life, how can he “lift humanity and bring out the positive energy that he sees in all of us, but has to be stimulated?” Very well, I think we would all agree.
In response to a question about the best advice that he ever received when he was first starting out, Alex related an incident that happened after he had been responsible for an on-campus extravaganza at the college he was attending, La Grange College in Georgia. It was the college chaplain that offered some sage, unsolicited advice that struck Alex with its simplicity and guides his career even today. “Don’t use the gift,” the chaplain offered, “let the gift use you.”
Alex willingly offers the gift of his experience to the next generation of singer/songwriters; it is elegant in its simplicity. “Don’t really think that hard. Be who you are and be true to who you are. There is someone, somewhere waiting to hear your music. Stimulate the positive energy that we all have inside us.”
Appalled by the conditions of under-served and overlooked children in a lower income area in St. Petersburg, Alex proved that what he sang about was more than just words. The same words of, as Alex said, “love, hope, healing and humanity” were realized as motivating forces, when, in 2012, with the help of his partner, Herbert Murphy, he did more than just stand idly by, as these “disadvantaged, underserved youth and teens” were lost to a life of futility and despair. Alex said that “you can’t love anyone else, if you can’t love yourself….” And love these kids, he did.
The result of which Alex is both CEO and co-founder, ACT (Arts Conservatory for Teens), in conjunction with the Pinellas School System, offers both before and after-school programs to disadvantaged youths (11 -18 years old). Its success is reflected in some outstanding statistics; 100% high school graduation where drop outs were rampant. Many of the children also went go on to attend college. To date, the organization has served over 2500 students!
Alex the man, and Alex the performer are timely individuals who impact the world they live in every day. Through his selfless caring for his fellow man, expressed in both his actions and his music, he is doing his part to make our world a better place. After all, Alex notes, “we are all part of a universal eco system.” “Make It Better” is just another expression of that grand design.