The harp has a long, rich history in traditional and classical music circles, but don’t discount its role in shaping contemporary indie rock, jazz and hip-hop. Here are seven fantastic female harp players you should definitely keep on your radar.
1-2. The Harp Twins: Camille and Kennerly Kitt
Identical twin sisters Camille and Kennerly Kitt, also known as the Harp Twins, a trained classical harpists, but at heart they’re massive metalheads. A few years ago, the Harp Twins started posting videos of themselves performing songs by Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, AC/DC, the Scorpions and other rockers, and they’re now up to something like 14 million views. (Camille and Kennerly are also actresses, competitive swimmers, Tae Kwon Do black belts and Summa Cum Laude conservatory grads.)
3. Zeena Parkins
American harpist/composer Zeena Parkins not only writes for and plays traditional wood-and-stringed instruments; she’s also an electric harp builder. Parkins, who teaches at Mills College in San Francisco, has released seven solo albums and has contributed her talents to recordings by Björk, John Zorn, Fred Frith, Lee Ranaldo, Nels Cline, Pauline Oliveros, Anthony Braxton, Yoko Ono and Courtney Love’s band Hole.
4. Joanna Newsom
When she was barely 20, California freak-folk harpist/singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom recorded two EPs, “Walnut Whales” and “Yarn and Glue,” on a Fisher-Price tape recorder, and began selling them at shows. Now, with three full-length studio albums on Drag City, countless appearances on the late-night television circuit and at important music festivals, and guest-spots on records by Vetiver, Vashti Bunyan and the Roots, Newsom has established herself as one of the most forward-thinking artists in indie rock. (She’s also married to SNL actor Andy Samberg.)
5. Rashida Jolley
Harpist/vocalist and D.C. native Rashida Jolley (who also goes by the name Tulani) wowed judges on the 2009 season of “America’s Got Talent” with a version of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly,” somehow managing to make her instrument sound like a whole rhythm section. (“You started beating up your harp!” an incredulous David Hasselhoff remarked.) The appearance led to a year-long world tour with Lady Gaga, tons of press coverage and “Tales of My Heart,” her own debut album.
6. Low Leaf
Experimental L.A.-based artist Low Leaf plays piano, harp, guitar and sings — sometimes, it seems, all at once — and also produces her own unique world- and urban-inspired music. She also has a new album out called “AKASHAALAY.”
7. Brandee Younger
Primarily known for her work as a jazz musician, Brooklyn’s Brandee Younger has appeared on popular recordings by John Legend, Common, Ryan Leslie and Drake. She’s also a bandleader and composer; check out her single “He Has A Name (Awareness, for Trayvon),” featuring tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard and alto flute player Nicole Camacho. (Read my interview with Younger here.)