|The Daily Mining Gazette - Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2008
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|Beloved former MTU professor dies at 51 |
|CAPTION: Photo courtesy of MTU Marketing & Communications|
Harris directs the Michigan Technological University ECHOES From Heaven
gospel choir in this photograph from 2000. The Juilliard-trained
pianist and soprano died in California Monday at the age of 51.
By JANE NORDBERG, DMG Writer
— Inetta Harris, a former Michigan Technological University fine arts
professor and Juilliard-trained soprano, died in Oakland, Calif.,
Monday from long-term health-related issues. She was 51.
came to the university in 1994 as a visiting professor through the King
Chavez Parks minority professionals program. Milt Olsson, Fine Arts
Department chairman at the time, said he first contacted Harris not to
lure her away from New York, but to learn if she had any
recommendations to fill an opening in the department.
heard she was very busy, and very ‘big city,’” Olsson said of the
classically-trained singer and pianist. “It blew me away that she was
interested in coming here herself.”
Harris, having performed for
audiences from Lincoln Center to Paris to Rio de Janeiro, told
reporters at the time that she was simply “tired of the road.”
draw for Harris, Olsson said, was the chance to direct the ECHOES From
Heaven gospel choir, a student-led group formed in 1989.
was a wonderful classical soprano but also had a deep commitment to
gospel music,” Olsson said. “She was the perfect choice to lead the
ECHOES, an acronym standing for Every Christian High on
Evangelical Song, grew to include 40 members, comprised of students
from both MTU and Suomi College, as well as singers from the community
Marcia Goodrich of MTU’s marketing and communications
department sang under Harris’ direction and called her a mentor to many
students, regardless of color.
“What she did for us was so inspiring,” she said. “She got the best out of anyone in any situation.”
Chavis, MTU Director of Outreach and Multiethnic Programs, who remained
friends with Harris after her departure from campus, said Harris’
commitment to the group fostered a sense of credibility for ECHOES
throughout the campus and the surrounding community.
take any nonsense off those kids at all and they learned to respect
that,” Chavis said. “There was no playing around. If you goofed up in
your classes, then you didn’t sing.”
However, if you worked
hard, you didn’t necessarily have to have an extraordinary voice to be
taken under Harris’ wing, Chavis said.
“First, she took them to
play in Lansing, and from there they went on a European tour,” she
said. “So many of the students had never left Michigan, and that was an
experience they’ll never forget.”
Harris told The Daily Mining
Gazette in 1996 she was looking forward to taking several ECHOES
members on a two-week tour of Europe that June, as Berlin held
particularly poignant memories for her. She performed there in 1990
just weeks after the wall came down.
“We got to sing some of the
first gospel music those people had ever heard,” Harris said of the
earlier trip. “One of the many rewards of teaching is being able to
bring these types of international experiences to the students.”
Olsson said students naturally gravitated to Harris’ boundless enthusiasm.
had an amazing gentleness, so much love for these young men and women,
black or white, not only for their work and their music and their
studies, but as human beings,” he said. “She was one of the most
effective counselors we’ve ever had, and she wasn’t on the counseling
When she wasn’t traveling or directing ECHOES, she was performing with the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra.
was incredibly important to us not only because of her leadership of
ECHOES and the outreach of black students and their culture, but
because she was also very much a classically-trained, highly-talented
singer,” Olsson said. “Performing with her was a privilege.”
Chavis and Olsson both noted Harris’ aptitude for the department’s aging Hammond organ.
“She was deeply emotional when she played,” Chavis recalled. “She wore that organ out.”
In 2003, Harris left MTU due to health reasons, moving back to California to remain close to her mother and brother.
“When she left, the loss to the university was felt deeply by anyone who came in contact with her,” Goodrich said.
Olsson called Harris a woman profoundly filled with love.
was a strong-willed woman, and we had our battles, but they were
battles done with love for each other,” he said. “I’m happy for her
that she is beyond the pain and suffering.”
A funeral service
for Harris is scheduled for Jan. 23 at 10 a.m. at the Greater Cooper
AME Zion Church in Oakland, Calif. Harris Funeral Home in Berkeley,
Calif. at 510-525-1331 is handling the arrangements.
also organizing a gospel choir concert honoring Harris as part of MTU’s
Martin Luther King events on Jan. 26, extending invitations to ECHOES
alumni from out of the area.
“So many students from her time on
campus are coming out of the woodwork now that they’re hearing about
her passing,” Chavis said. “It seems fitting to have one of the last
tributes to her be from them.”
Jane Nordberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org