It’s been 50 years since country singer turned Broadway star Gary Morris was just a sports-minded kid at Richland High School, but time hasn’t severed those North Richland Hills hometown ties.
Morris, 68, is returning to North Texas for his Class of 1967 reunion, which unofficially begins with his public concert Thursday evening at Arlington Music Hall. The class reunion will be Saturday night in the Fort Worth Stockyards, with 128 of the 365-member class expected to attend.
“It’s always interesting to come back and play here,” Morris said during a phone interview earlier this week. “There’s a huge tie I still have with the school. A lot of people don’t know that the only formal music training I ever had was at Richland High. That, and from Buddy Burton, who was the music director at Richland Hills Baptist Church.”
He will be recording a new album live at the show and is including the class song, “Slow Dixie.”
Morris plans to ask all the alumni who are present at the concert to get up onstage and sing it with him for the historical record.
Richland’s Rebel mascot was a Civil War soldier back when Morris attended, though today the school has morphed the soldier into a Western Rebel character. The song, the Confederate flag and other symbols have been retired.
“I’ve even gotten some grief, some pushback lately, for singing ‘An American Trilogy’ in my shows,” Morris said. “Dixie” “was our class song. I never thought in my entire life that it would come to represent what some people think it represents.”
Morris has sung for five presidents and the queen of England and starred on Broadway and the Grand Ole Opry. It all began in high school.
“To be a Richland Rebel was everything, for as long as I could remember,” Morris wrote earlier this year in an alumni newsletter profile. He played several sports, including football, saying “all the coaches helped to lay a competitive foundation that has never left me.”
Morris was quiet and driven. He had his own band with classmate Eddie Johnson.
“He was just a more serious person,” said Jan Leach Gilliland, a classmate of Morris’ and organizer of the reunion. “He would talk and be friendly, but you had to initiate the conversation.
After college, Morris played with Johnson again in Colorado, “which was a great place to learn how to entertain,” Morris said. “For me, it was the foundation that guides me to this day.”
The Arlington show will have the new music that Morris is recording for his live album, plus the old favorites that fans remember from his country heydays of the 1980s and ’90s. He played lead roles on Broadway in “Les Miserables” and “La Boheme,” and will include music from those, “the only two operas I’ve ever attended, and I was in both of them.”
His country hits include “Wind Beneath My Wings,” “Why Lady Why,” “Second Hand Heart,” “The Love She Found In Me,” “100% Chance of Rain,” “I’ll Never Stop Loving You,” and many others.
“Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables” is one of his most requested songs.
A prolific tourer, Morris travels mostly by truck from his Colorado lodge home these days in lieu of flying, since his traveling partner is 5-month-old English setter pup Ellie May.
“I’m on the road pretty much all the time now,” he said. “It’s just me and three guitars. I’ve been ‘eliminated’ from the radio, so I do a lot of songs I’ve recorded that people don’t know, [and] I get a lot of requests for album cuts they do know.”
He also performs benefit concerts for members of the military, and hosts fly-fishing trips at his lodge for veterans groups.
The singer joked about the half-century that has passed since his school days. “If I had just stayed in high school and failed algebra for 30 years,” Morris said, “I’d only be celebrating my 20th reunion now.”
Gary Morris in concert
7:30 p.m. Thursday
Arlington Music Hall
224 N. Center St.