Eli Harris, Syracuse’s best-known street performer, is on a mission this holiday season. The 53-year-old Syracuse native, who has shared his talent with Syracuse University students since 1983, released his second recorded album, “Eli’s Christmas Mission” with a new goal for his listeners.
“People don’t know what Christmas is about,” said Harris. “They just think ‘Oh, Christmas. Christmas gifts!’ In my upbringing Christmas was a very sacred thing. Christ is a gift and my mission is to tell people that through my music.”
Born at Crouse-Irving Memorial Hospital on August 19, 1957, Harris considers the SU campus his stomping grounds and is often found at his favorite spot at the corner of Marshall Street and University Avenue singing and strumming his guitar. SU students helped produce his first album, Eli’s Alleyway: The Musical Biography of Elijah Harris Jr., in 2006 and his new six-song Christmas record was also put together by the Marshall Street Records label.
Harris wrote three original songs to accompany his version of the Christmas classics "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," “Jingle Bells," and "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" on his album. “Christmas Love” was written about the special kind of love he feels when he thinks about Christmas and Jesus’ birth.
Harris wrote another original track, “Angel,” about his late wife Mary L. Wright-Harris, who lost her battle against AIDS in 2002.
“['Angel'] talks about someone being so angelical that they move you,” said Harris.
Harris expresses his gratefulness for all that God has given him in “Glory.” “Every day I thank God for giving me a talent,” Harris said. “The ability to entertain and at the same time, the ability to inspire is something special. I look at youthful people, they inspire me, and they say I inspire them. That’s why I have to give glory to God for what I have.”
While Harris’ Christmas mission is always on his mind, the musician says he continues to play on the streets of Syracuse year round to bring joy to people in the difficult times that we live in.
“There’s so much going on,” Harris said. “There are so many tragedies. Peoples’ minds are becoming so mangled and I’m on a personal mission to revive some of the good spirits. It’s a task. I can’t be a walking God. I can just make sure that I keep ringing that bell and telling people it’s got to get better.”
The musician’s strong faith and perseverance have kept him going through a lifetime of hardships. After losing his mother at a young age and his beloved wife too soon, Harris lives for his music. Diagnosed with hepatitis, Harris has his good and bad days, but the love for what he does keeps him going.
“When I perform, sometimes, it’s the thing where I have to force myself to do it,” he said. “It’s my job. There’s times when I go out and I don’t feel too up to par. But for me, what keeps me going is just seeing people accept what I do. I’ve learned how to put a smile on someone’s face but I want it to deeper than that. I want to make souls happy. That’s my mission, to see happy people.”
Otto-Tune is a music blog dedicated to exposing the best in local, national and international music to the Syracuse community.