Since releasing his first album in 1986, Michael Allen Harrison’s recorded works have ranged from film scores to ballet compositions, and passion-filled interpretations. He has performed for President Clinton, Quincy Jones, Walter Cronkite, Jerry Lewis, and a host of other notables. His signature style is timeless, upbeat and compelling — inspiring audiences near and far. A fun factoid: his music was in the luggage of astronauts aboard the Endeavor and Discovery space shuttles.
While it can be daunting to meet someone of this caliber for the first time, he makes it easy. Chatting with Michael feels like time with a close friend — one who motivates and encourages, helping you realize the best paths are those that tug and won’t let go. He is charismatic, genuine, and nice.
That he just returned from Mexico begged the question: did he go to escape the rain? “I love the climate here,” he replied, “but this year we have a serious problem.” He added, “If this is going to be the trend, everyone should invest in a house somewhere like Palm Springs or Mexico.” This from a native!
Harrison grew up in the Parkrose area of Portland, a painfully shy boy. At about age six he began lessons with a neighbor who taught piano. “My parents wanted to give me an activity to help me gain some confidence.” He says it helped tremendously, especially in the anguishing teen years.
He did not become what he’d dreamed he might — a rock star or NFL quarterback. “Particularly with the Green Bay Packers,” he says with a smile. Due to his slight build, he eventually conceded that pro sports were not his future. “I loved sports, any kind,” he says, recalling childhood memories of “hanging with my neighborhood pals playing pick up basketball, just regular guys riding our bikes and stuff.”
In the ‘80s Harrison lived briefly in the Eugene area, managing Nudelman’s Formal Wear. It was there he began to meet a wider mix of people. Most know Nudelman’s for tuxedo rentals, but they also provided uniforms to police and fire departments, postal workers and security guards. “We didn’t carry guns, but everything else . . . belts, holsters, handcuffs and night sticks,” he says. Working with government agencies exposed him to people from diverse walks of life. He says there were a few bad apples, but that “most everybody was for the good.”
“For the good” is essential Harrison. He supports two to three charities each week, performing for everything from schools to cancer organizations, diabetes foundations to churches, as well as his own nonprofit. Harrison’s Snowman Foundation supports Portland-area school music programs and youth organizations.
He shares a recent event that touched him deeply. A family asked him to do a concert for their 11-year daughter, Alena Marek, who had been diagnosed with a rare cancer. “Over $12,000 was raised for the family,” he says. “It was very special.”
Michael Allen Harrison will perform during Shine with Spot July 30th, an afternoon for pet professionals in the for- and non-profit sectors to network, and then learn from a top executive of Causes on Facebook. Proceeds from the event will benefit Oregon Spay/Neuter Fund, and Spot’s developing pet emergency fund.
While his name, his music and his history are known to many in the Northwest, Michael made time to chat with Spot, allowing us all to get better acquainted with this gifted, generous, very special man.
More about Harrison will appear in the July issue of Spot, in a supplement running in conjunction with “Shine.” Stay tuned . . . some of the best of Michael is yet to come.
Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of BowWows & Meows Pet Services of SW WA. She and her brood, Jake and Jessie, both yellow Labs, and parrots Pedro (Yellow-Nape Amazon) and Lorali (African Grey) reside in Vancouver. Vonnie also is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.