Combing soulful music and stories of slavery, Kim and Reggie Harris took their audience on a historical journey during the annual Weber State University Storytelling Festival.
Audience members gathered at the WSU Davis campus on Tuesday to hear the duo sing of the Underground Railroad and the path to freedom.
Kim and Reggie Harris explained that songs were frequently used by slaves to spread messages or tell stories during the slavery era in America.
“If you just listen, they sound like they are simply songs of faith,” Kim Harris said. “But many of these songs from the time of the Underground Railroad were not only songs of faith, but also songs of freedom, sometimes with secret codes.”
Kim and Reggie Harris have been storytelling and singing since the early 1980’s, sharing their talent in tours throughout the world.
The duo has been to Utah twice, both times to share their songs and stories.
They began as musicians, Kim Harris explained, but later realized that it was more effective to combine the arts of music and storytelling.
“Human beings are hardwired for stories and music is just so basic to our being,” Reggie Harris said. “So combining those two things really allows people to kind of let go and we find it’s really effective to take things on with a song and a story rather than just sit there and talk to people all day.”
Reggie Harris said his favorite part of his job is the connection he makes with people, while Kim Harris said her favorite part is the travel opportunities of performing.
The storytelling festival has been providing a platform for telling and sharing tales for 19 years.
The theme of this year’s festival, “Telling the American Experience,” was reflected in the subject matter of Kim and Reggie Harris’ stories of slave heritage and civil rights.
“By sharing stories and listening to stories, we are making connections to each other that we can’t make any other way,” said Rachel Hedman, storytelling chair and executive committee member of the festival. “People can list facts upon facts, but without those stories it would be meaningless.”
This year’s festival featured 38 Utah tellers, five national tellers and over 60 youth tellers.
“The purpose of the festival is to encourage people to tell stories and to love stories,” said Vincent Bates, WSU’s storytelling festival chair and assistant teacher education professor. “It’s to promote the art of storytelling.”
Although the festival has many events catered to children, Bates says they can be entertaining for young and old alike.
“I’ve watched the audiences at the festival and they are all ages,” Bates said. “Part of the magic of storytelling is that it engages adults and children all at the same time.”
Kim and Reggie Harris said they also hope their stories encourage audiences to find their own passion in storytelling.
“Just remembering your own personal experience, taking small bits and putting them into a story format often gives you an opportunity to look at things in a different way,” Reggie Harris said. “You can gain a lot of insight into your life.”