‘Jimmy Jam’ Harris and Terry Lewis big hits at North High

(l-r) Terry Lewis and Jimmy ‘Jam’ Harris and with a proclamation (Photo by Lou Michaels)

In case you missed it, over 67,000 people braved sub-zero wind chills to be part of the excitement of Superbowl LII. A host of celebrities were also present to watch the game and to entertain the crowd, chief among them hometown legends and international music producers James “Jimmy Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis, who served as music ambassadors for the 10-day line-up of events.

The duo appeared at Lewis’ alma mater North High School to thunderous applause from students, faculty, and visiting dignitaries, including Mayor Jacob Fry, State Senator Bobby Joe Champion, MPS Superintendent Ed Graff and, North High Principal Dr. Shawn Harris Berry.


“We wear the pride of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota anywhere we go around the world.”


“North High students, this is why this is important,” said Berry. “Terry Lewis sat in the same seats you’re sitting in right now today. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis made music right here at North High School. Today, they are multi-millionaires, songwriters and producers.

“You don’t know who you are going to become,” Berry said. “Your circumstances today do not predict your future.”
Over more than 30 years, Harris and Lewis have produced the musical likes of Usher, Janet Jackson, The Human People, Mya, Kendrick Lamar, Gwen Stefan, Mariah Carey, Elton John, George Michael, Rod Stewart, Mary J. Blidge, Beyonce and Lionel Richie.

An elated Mayor Frey took the stage and proclaimed January 31, 2018 as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis Day. “If you’ve seen the influence that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have [had]…the list goes on and on with their unique North Minneapolis sound to the world.

“We are so honored to recognize living legends of North High, of the city of Minneapolis, of the state of Minnesota, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis,” said the mayor. “This is a spectacular day.”

“I know this has been a great work in progress with many years of history,” said Superintendent Ed Graff, giving North High credit for its academics and sports programs and the 83 percent rise in graduation rates. The North High dance team celebrated the occasion with a dance routine using Harris’ and Lewis’ works, including Rhythm Nation and Pleasure Principal.

State Senator Bobby Joe Champion, a North High alumnus, spoke on the hometown pride. “They have done all the extraordinary things in terms of music, but Lewis also ran track for North and set all kinds of state records. These are two individuals I know as two good people.

“[When] KMOJ needed help, they stepped up,” Champion said. “When North High School needed to make sure they [students] understand their history, they made sure Mahmud El Kati was in these doors.

“They took a chance on me, a young kid from the North Side, out of five kids, who was the first to go to college and law school. They let me work at Flyte Time for them, and every day I worked there I was happy because I represented my family, community and North High School.”

(l-r) Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison, Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, Terry Lewis and Jimmy ‘Jam’ Harris (Lou Michaels/MSR News)

Harris and Lewis took the stage to a standing ovation. “First of all, I want to say what an honor it is to be in Minneapolis again,” said Harris. “I was born and raised here. I was born on the South Side, but I was raised on the North Side.”

“Terry and I met 45 years ago,” said Harris. “We first wanted to become teachers in the subject of math. We met in Upward Bound [a federally funded education program]. Without education bringing us together, there would be no Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.”

Harris stressed the importance of education and pursuing your passion. “Where we are standing from where you are sitting seems like the Grand Canyon, like it’s a really long way. We are proof that it’s not. It’s really about loving what you do and having the opportunity to do it.

“One of the reasons we are here today is to give you guys [North High students] the opportunity to do what you want to do. From the basements of all of our houses over here to the crazy winters, [the music] became the most important thing. North Side made that happen for us.”

Harris mentioned Bruno Mars humbly paying respect to him during the Grammys. “Mars not only has respect for what [I and Lewis do], but he has a deep respect for Minneapolis, as does Janet Jackson. We wear the pride of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota anywhere we go around the world.”

Harris, an only child, said Lewis was and still is like an older brother to him. Lewis advised him to start playing the keyboard while playing drums and influenced Harris to play in the band. “I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for this brother. The biggest thing he taught me was it’s not about you, it’s about what you do.”

Lewis happily stated, “I used to run these halls, sit in these chairs, practice athletics just like you all. Make sure you continue to be active.

“North Side taught me one thing was honor. You had to be accountable for everything you did because somebody’s mother and father would always knock you upside the head, so there was no slacking off, and you didn’t get away with anything.”

Lewis said he stayed busy to perfect his craft despite the distractions. “It taught me to be competitive as well, hanging at the community center. We played sports and music. It protected us from the other harms in the community, and I hope you all aren’t running that way.”

He encouraged the students to know their value. “You are invaluable. There’s not a number or limit you can put on it, and you just have to do the work. I’ve never done music for money, just the passion.”

Harris and Lewis held a Q&A session. Little did Harris know he would be reunited with a family member, North High junior Shequila Harris-Anderson, who asked Harris who taught him to play the keyboard. Harris replied he’d learned from his father, James “Cornbread” Harris.

“My father is a keyboard player, so there were always keyboards around the house,” adding how he and Prince took music lessons at Bryant Junior High.

Harris-Anderson followed with, “Your grandpa’s name is James…but that’s my great grandpa, and you’re my great uncle.” The audience applauded as she went up on the stage and gave Harris a welcoming hug.

Said Frey, “They are an inspiration for Minneapolis youth and students. They have represented us with class and distinction.”

Ivan B. Phifer welcomes reader responses to ivan.b.phifer@gmail.com.