Eli Harris performing on guitar on New Years in 2014 at the King of Clubs in Armory Square. | Ben Cleeton, Special to The Stand

Honoring Eli Harris

Family establishes scholarship in memory of well-known city street musician 

By Eileen Jevis

Elijah Harris Jr. was known throughout Syracuse as a man who shared his passion for music with those around him. Anyone walking near the Syracuse University campus would encounter Harris with a smile on his face and a guitar in his hands

Harris could often be found on Marshall Street serenading people passing by and telling jokes. 

Daughter Lakisha Harris holds a photo of her father, Eli Harris, a U.S. Marine who served in the Vietnam War. | Photo Provided by Syracuse University

“His love of music started when he was 8 years old,” said his daughter, Lakisha Harris. “He started playing the guitar at the age of 11. He wanted to spread harmony and his musical gift with everyone.”

In April 2020, Harris was killed while riding his bicycle in a multiple hit-and-run crash on the city’s South Side. 

Family, friends and acquaintances were shocked to learn of his death and the circumstances surrounding it. 

Lakisha wants people to remember not how her dad died, but that he was an amazing artist who put his heart and soul into every performance.

“My dad encountered many struggles throughout his life, but he stayed committed to his music and his journey to touch as many people as possible,” she said. 

Harris, one of nine children, says her father was very devoted to his family. After performing and sharing his talents with the community, he would go home and entertain them. 

“He would share his music with his children with the same energy he had on the streets,” she recalled.

While Harris played his guitar at various locations throughout Syracuse — outside the Dome, in front of the Landmark Theater or Civic Center or NBT Stadium — Lakisha says he especially loved playing near the Syracuse University campus. 

“He loved Syracuse University and appreciated the love he received back from those he met,” she said. “The university embraced my dad with open arms from the very beginning, so when my family wanted to create a lasting memory, we chose to establish a scholarship at Syracuse University as a way to honor him and say thank you.”

“Anyone who knew Eli or heard him play understands the power of music, especially music shared openly and freely,” said Michael Frasciello, dean of University College. He says the school is honored to be part of his legacy of humor, love and joy. 

The Eli Harris Scholarship will ensure that SU part-time students have the opportunity to study and share music as only he could imagine.”

The Eli Harris Scholarship will provide financial assistance to part-time undergraduate students studying music or a related field.

In 2019 Harris won the Founders Award during the Syracuse Area Music Awards. It was an honor that reflected the positive impact he had on the Syracuse community.

“My father would be as excited and proud of this tribute as he was when he received the Founders Award,” Lakisha said. “With the establishment of this scholarship, the family wants to ensure that his legacy will live on. 

“We want students to know that if they are determined, they can accomplish great things.”

   This story originally appeared online in Syracuse University
                News and is republished with permission

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