Exclusive: Singer Larnelle Harris on His New Book Shaped Notes, Challenges and How God Has Worked in His Life
On April 23, 2018, LIFEToday will feature singer, songwriter and now author Larnelle Harris discussing his new book Shaped Notes. The Stream’s Nancy Flory sat down with Larnelle recently to ask him about the book, the challenges he’s faced, and God’s hand in his life.
Tell me about your new book Shaped Notes. Why now? What was the purpose of this book?
To use two little words that are rarely used: “thank you.” There were people when I was growing up back in a little town — Danville, Kentucky — who spoke into my life. I have the privilege of living 80 miles from where I was born.
And as I’ve gotten older and maybe a little bit wiser, I now understand that there were people who were speaking into my life. And every time I drive the 80 miles to Danville and back to Louisville, I am dragging another memory back. And I really just wanted to say thank you.
There’s a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a turtle on a fencepost. And the first time I saw it, I looked at it and kind of laughed and kept going. But the second time I saw it, I think I saw what the photographer wanted me to see. That is, the turtle didn’t get up there by itself. There are teachers, friends, family and especially my mom and dad who spoke into my heart and spoke into my life.
An old lady by the name of Miss Georgie and I did my first concert at 9 years old. Miss Georgie played piano and I took piano lessons from her. She had no idea of what was going to happen in my later life. All she knew was that there was a little kid that she could help with a dream.
There were teachers and administrators and friends who I now see God put into my life. This was no accident. And it just is wonderful to finally understand that and say ‘thank you’ to them, and hope that I can follow in their footsteps and do the same thing for some other kid.
What has been the greatest challenge to your faith and how did you make it through?
You know, my prayer hasn’t changed very much since I really understood what being a Christian was all about. That was probably the greatest challenge. I joined the church when I was 12. I really thought I had a pretty good handle on what it meant to be a Christian.
Another person was put into my life at a later age, who explained for the first time that I understood, about what it meant to become a Christian. The greatest hurdle is thinking that you have something and you really don’t.
Now, I still believe that God was protecting me and He was with me because I was doing what I understood. But when I met Stan, he asked me a pointed question: “Do you remember a time when you asked Christ to come into your heart?” And I really couldn’t remember that. I thought I had everything I needed.
Now, I understand that you can never exhaust the study of who God is. And through Christ, I had the wonderful opportunity of putting myself in a place where He could do His work in my heart and my life.
You’re looking over your life. What is the moment that stands out where you can say, “No one but God who could have done that”?
I had a lot of voice trouble. I was traveling in a group, traveling across the country, thought I was doing the right thing. We were a ministry, a bunch of young people. I sung myself to death. God didn’t do that, I did it.
I think the greatest lesson was that I was depending on [my] voice. Where it could take me, things I was going to do with it, the people I was going to meet, and the “stardom” mentality. But I now understand that the voice trouble I had — what doctors thought may be a probable outcome of not singing — was about trust.
It was a lesson that I’ve never forgotten. I believe that God was saying to me, “We can’t trust in voice, we can’t trust in things, we can’t trust in anything except me. We’re going to trust in me.” During that time, I just bathed in the Bible. I stayed in it. And I stayed in it through the anger and through the “why mes?” until I could get to a point — and God’s Word did this — that I could say: “You know what, if You don’t want me to sing anymore, You must have something awfully good coming.”
That’s trust. That was a long pickin’ way! It was not an easy trip. There are a lot of things that go into that. My wife was pregnant. We’d been on the road a couple of years and she was going home to be with her doctor. She has a master’s in Special Ed, and we’d just bought a little house. I couldn’t sing.
Really scary time! And yet, during that time, God took care of us. We never missed a payment on anything. I don’t even know today how that worked. But I do know this: God can be trusted.
Tell me where God is leading you in the near future?
To be a positive influence on the people that He has put in my sphere of influence. I pray that God will give me the strength, because that’s where it comes from. This is something that I can’t do. God is notorious for giving us stuff we can’t do. And so we have to depend on Him to get that done.
Listen, this is bigger than you or me. [I pray] that He allows me to live in such a way by His grace that it comes out the pores. That it comes out the DNA. I believe that’s what God is always trying to do. That’s not to think on the earthly plane, but on the heavenly plane.
And I think God’s always trying to get us there. That the love of Christ be shown. I mean, that’s all we can ask. That through the warts — and we’ve all got them — people may understand God’s grace, love, compassion and long-suffering.
Listen, they’re not going to get that with this me that’s peeping out of these eyes. But the Spirit that is alive in my life, in your life, hopefully that we can convey that. I think that’s the future for all of us as we as a team do our best to represent God in the way that He’d want to be represented.
If we do that, the Scripture says that if we take them to the cross we lift up Christ, then He’ll draw mankind to Himself. That’s all I know.
The interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.