Robert A. Harris served as Director of Choral Organizations and Professor of Conducting at the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music from 1977 to 2012. Prior to Northwestern, Dr. Harris taught at Michigan State University, where he served as Director of Choral Activities from 1970 to 1977, and at Wayne State University (Detroit, Michigan) from 1964-1970. He also has held visiting professorships at Wayne State University, the University of Texas (Austin) and the University of South Africa in Pretoria.
Dr. Harris is active as a conductor, choir clinician, and adjudicator, having appeared in these capacities throughout the United States and abroad. Dr. Harris served as Director of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus for the 2016-17 season. In June 2016, he served as guest conductor of the Carolina Coast Festival Chorus and Orchestra’s Spring Festival. Performances of the Faure “Requiem” and Sacred Music of 20th and 21st century American composers were held in New Bern and Jacksonville, North Carolina. In November 2016, Dr. Harris served as guest conductor with the Wayne State University Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra (Detroit, Michigan) in a performance of the Brahams “Ein deutches Requiem.”
Internationally, Dr. Harris served as one of two guest conductors and clinicians for the Taipei Philharmonic Choral and Conducting Workshop in the Republic of China. He also served as guest conductor for Korea's premier professional choir, the Inchon City Chorale, guest conductor of a Choral Festival Youth Chorale in Hong Kong, and presented lectures and conducting master classes throughout South Africa on two separate occasions. In Argentina, Dr. Harris presented lectures and master classes on African American spirituals. In March 2013, he presented master classes on spirituals for the American Cantat VII Music Festival.
Awards and honors for Harris include an Alumni Arts Achievement Award in Music from Wayne State University and the 2000-2001 Northwestern University School of Music's Faculty Exemplar Teaching Award. Harris was one of three University professors to receive a Northwestern University Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award for the 2001-2002 academic year. Harris served for three years as a member of the Choral Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts and twice functioned as the Panel's co-chair. Biographical entries include Who's Who Among Black Americans, Men of Achievement (London), and Who's Who in America. A video Oral History interview of Harris has been made a permanent part of the History Makers Collections at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Dr. Harris received his education from Wayne State University in Detroit, the Eastman School of Music, and earned his doctorate from Michigan State University in composition and theory. He has been active as a church music director throughout his career, currently serving Winnetka (IL) Congregational Church as Director of Music and Choirmaster. He is a life member of the American Choral Directors Association and an active member of Chorus America.