Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis feel the hometown love

Jimmy Jam enters the North High School auditorium
Jimmy Jam enters the North High School auditorium.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Long before they helped Janet Jackson build a "Rhythm Nation," Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis were two young Minneapolis men determined to make their dreams come true.

At the time, though, they didn't think they'd be famous musicians.

Wednesday, two of the city's most famous sons came to North High School in Minneapolis to receive an honorary decree from the mayor and to encourage students to reach for their goals.

Jacob Frey proclaims "Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis Day"
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey alongside city council representative Jeremiah Ellison, senator Bobby Joe Champion, Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, reads a proclamation declaring Jan. 31, 2018, "Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis Day."
Evan Frost | MPR News

Mayor Jacob Frey pronounced it Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis Day in Minneapolis. A North High dance troupe also honored Harris' and Lewis' musical legacy with a routine which included some of Janet Jackson's chart-topping hits crafted by the duo.

Harris, who was born in south Minneapolis, said he and Lewis met 45 years ago in a program called Upward Bound at the University of Minnesota. He said they both wanted to teach math. But Harris soon found out that he and Lewis also shared a passion for music.

"He would always be blasting music out of his dorm room and stuff and I would come by and listen to it," said Harris, sitting next to Lewis on the school's auditorium stage. Both men wore their trademark fedoras, dark glasses and long coats. "And that's what we just kind of bonded over, music."

Harris said Lewis invited him to join the band Flyte Tyme, which eventually became known as The Time. And the rest is, music history.

Jimmy Jam, right, laughs next to his musical partner Terry Lewis
Jimmy Jam, right, laughs next to his musical partner Terry Lewis.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Harris and Lewis formed a musical partnership which has earned them millions in record sales and nearly a dozen Grammy awards.

Both men said they were excited to be back in the city where they grew up and met the people who would change their lives.

For Lewis, a North High alum, the event was a homecoming.

"I used to run these halls, just like you do," said Lewis, who also ran track at the school. He encouraged students to work toward their goals by actively seeking out opportunities. Lewis said he learned important life lessons from the mentors he met at community centers like The Way which used to stand on Plymouth Ave.

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis take questions from students at North High School
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis take questions from students at North High School.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"One thing the north side taught me was honor," said Lewis. "Because you had to be honorable and you had to be accountable for everything you did."

Harris and Lewis also answered questions from some of the students in the auditorium. When asked how he learned to play keyboards, Harris, the son of local piano great James 'Cornbread' Harris, said he picked it up mostly from his dad.

But Harris also mentioned that he took piano class at Central High School with Prince.

"We both already knew how to play, so it just got us out of class together for an hour," said Harris. "It was a lot of fun to play and that's where I got to know Prince."

When asked later by a reporter, who was the better piano player, Harris didn't hesitate.

"Not even a question. Prince was better," said Harris. "I thought I was good, until I met him. And I think a lot of musicians felt that way. I played drums also. And he got on the drums and tore me up on the drums."

"He got on the bass and tore me up on the bass," chimed in Lewis.

"I mean, that's just what he did," said Harris. "That was just him."

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