Date Created: 08/18/2014
Last Updated: 08/22/2014

In loving memory of Ralph Junius Harris Sr.
5/25/1930 - 8/10/2014

Location: Belchertown, Massachusetts

Visits: 16,391

Born May 25, 1930, Ralph Junius Harris Sr - fondly called "Opi," passed Sunday August 10th 2014 at UMASS Memorial Hospital Worcester Massachusetts. At his side was: his wife of 58 years, Bettijean; his daughter Robin; son Ricky; grand-niece Jazzy with her partner "Dee"; his pastor Rev. Steven Wilco of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Amherst MA;and the love, prayers and best wishes of a multitude of others who couldn't be present. Even to your last breath, you kept a smile. You will be missed Opi, but not forgotten.


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From: Johnnie Jordan Jr. Thursday, January 07, 2016
Mr. Harris, as he was known at the John J. Pershing High School in Detroit, MI, gave his students, myself included, the opportunity to explore genres of music that we would have ordinarily not been exposed to. I so enjoyed the way he taught. He taught life lessons through his musical teachings. I thought of him as a vocal Sensei. For Mr. Harris it was not enough to simply learn the notes and lyrics. For him it was a necessity to delve into the intended mood of a song and how best to convey that mood to the listener. Before the first note was sang the lyrics were read and studied as if in a literary class. Then he would discuss the musical structure, such as the use of sharps and flats, or crescendo verses decrescendo. He also taught songs in other languages. I recall him bringing in the French teacher to ensure our French diction was correct, as well as his interpretation.

Mr. Ralph Junius Harris enjoyed sharing his love of music with his students at Detroit's John J. Pershing High School. We represented our school throughout the city of Detroit, performing Madrigals to Spirituals. We even recorded an album.

I was fortunate to have been under his tutelage for the four years I attended Pershing. I was a member of the Concert Choir and the Ensemble each of those years. Through him I learned conviction motivates preparation, and preparation leads to confidence. To be confident in your performance no matter the stage you are on is the life lesson learned by this student of our beloved, "Mr. Harris".

From: Carol Magrone Friday, August 22, 2014

Junius is the kind of person who commands attention when he purposefully walks into a room and finds his place to settle. You will know him not only by the milk-chocolate color of his skin but also by the deliberate and ambling gate which draws your attention as he strolls to a seat to join the gathering where you happen to be. It won’t take long for him to make his talents known to you. He has many ways that he might do that. One of his favorites is to announce your birthday with his booming baritone, opera style rendition of the traditional Happy Birthday song.

Junius is a proud man, proud of his talent as an opera singer whose career could not be expressed here in America due to the racial discrimination he experienced which he soon realized would not allow him to perform in the venues he desired. Europe, Germany to be specific was his home for twenty-one years where his love of music and art found a fuller expression than he might have ever realized had he remained here.

Junius is proud of the education and parenting he provided for his children. His devotion to his family is matched only by the firmness with which he states and stands true to his beliefs about what is just and what is right. Junius is proud of the music talents of his son who became a concert violinist invited to study with a prestigious school in Russia. Junius is proud of the artistic talents of this same son whose paintings adorn the walls of every room in his home.

Junius is also determined to be solid and not shaken by the life his son is living. For his son’s life has been derailed by delusion and turmoil. His son needs medication to maintain a life lived on disability with guidance from a psychiatric system which has failed to recognize the genius in his talents.

When Junius lived in Germany, he experienced a system which held and nourished individuals like his son, allowing them to be cared for in ways that they could not care for themselves and structuring opportunities to give back of their talents in a productive manner. Their lives were valued.

Now that Junius is living in America again and is seeing first-hand the derailment of his son’s life, helping others come to acceptance of what ought to be is what moves Junius to express his caring for others living this same dilemma. “I will not allow my son’s struggles to put me on a psychiatrist’s couch. I will pray for him and his safety. I will demand of the mental health managers in the community that it is their job to provide for and protect him. And I will love him as only a father can love a son.” This is the strength of character Junius displays with his words and his very presence in a room of loved ones dealing with similar circumstances.

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