Bill Harley likes how spoken words and music go together, creating a kind of magical connection.
They always have, Harley says.
So he blends words and music in his storytelling to educate and to create community.
“At times, I feel like I’m a conduit for something larger than me,” Harley says. “I started telling stories in performance while I was in college, when I became interested in oral traditions.
“During that time, I was also working with children in after-school programs and a day camp.
“I was intrigued and amazed by the effects a told story had on unruly campers.”
Something happens in a room where everyone is listening to the same story, Harley explains. “There’s a web of connection that is built—a gathered presence. This is different from performance on other media. I’ve said before that I view storytelling as an intimate response to an impersonal culture.
“Connecting with the audience involves being present—aware of the story, aware of my own actions and senses, and aware of the people in the space with me. There’s an inherent vulnerability in this presence, and that vulnerability is what makes a teller authentic—someone the listener can trust.
“When I have told a story for a while, it takes on a life of its own,” Harley explains, whether it’s a story about sitting down to eat with a house stuffed with animals or a yarn about pirates who steal all the socks and underwear.
Bill Harley is considered by fans and peers to be one of the best storytellers in the country, a celebration of commonality and humanity, delivered through comic narrative songs and spoken pieces.
Over the past 40 years, his work has influenced generations, touring nationally as well as internationally with his guitar, song, and hallmark humor.
He has produced 35 award-winning recordings and has been described as the “Mark Twain of contemporary kids’ music.”
The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities noted the core of his work as building community; promoting our common humanity; and encouraging lifelong learning, exploring, and growing.
His newest work is a series about the trials and tribulations of fourth grader Charlie Bumpers. The first book in the series won the Beverly Cleary Children’s Choice award.