The harp is a magnificent instrument that has captivated audiences for centuries. It is an instrument of grace, elegance and beauty, and when played by a master musician, it can evoke deep emotions and stir the soul. Today, we celebrate the achievements and contributions of four exceptional black female harpists who have made a name for themselves in the world of classical music. These women have challenged stereotypes, broken barriers and inspired countless others to pursue their dreams.
What sets these four harpists apart is their commitment to using their talents to make a difference in the world. They are more than just musicians; they are ambassadors for their art form, using their platform to raise awareness about important social and cultural issues. They have each taken unique approaches to connect with audiences and promote their art, but what unites them is their passion for their craft and their unwavering dedication to their craft.
Whether performing in prestigious concert halls, teaching the next generation of musicians or collaborating with other artists to create new and innovative works, these four harpists have left an indelible mark on the world of classical music. They are a testament to the power of music to bring people together, to heal, inspire and evoke change. They are true leaders in their field and serve as shining examples of the incredible achievements that can be made when we pursue our passions with determination and purpose.
It is with great honour that we present to you these four black female harpists, who have made a lasting impact on the world of classical music. They are trailblazers, visionaries, and role models who have inspired countless others to follow in their footsteps. Through their music, they have touched the lives of people all over the world, and their legacies will continue to inspire future generations of harpists and music lovers alike, just like elder harpists like Ann Hobson Pilot has inspired the current generation.
Angelica Hairston is a talented harpist known for her passion for both music and social change. A native of Atlanta, Georgia, she serves as the Artistic Director of the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble, providing free harp instruction to over 80 students in Atlanta’s inner-city and overseeing the artistic vision for the non-profit organization. Angelica’s musical skills have been honed through her participation in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Talent Development Program and her attendance at various summer music programs, such as the National Music Festival and the International Harp Academy of the Pacific.
Hairston is an advocate for racial diversity and inclusion in the performing arts and has launched the concert series Challenge the Stats to shed light on the underrepresentation of minorities in this field. This concert series celebrates high-calibre artists of colour and is supported by an Arts Leadership Grant from From the Top. In addition to her advocacy, Angelica has also performed as a soloist with several orchestras, including the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, and the Daytona Solisti Chamber Orchestra.
Hairston holds a Master of Music Industry Leadership from Northeastern University and a Bachelor of Music from The Glenn Gould School of The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where she studied with renowned harpist Judy Loman. Through her work with the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble and her advocacy through Challenge the Stats, Angelica is making a positive impact on the music world and working to bring new and unique perspectives to the harp.
Madison Calley is a black harpist who is breaking barriers in the orchestral world. With hundreds of thousands of followers and a performance at the 2021 Grammys, she is redefining society’s ideas of what a harpist looks like, at a time when less than five per cent of orchestral musicians in the US are BIPOC. A Washington D.C. native, Calley’s family background in music played a crucial role in her journey to becoming a harpist. Her grandfather was a professor of music at Tuskegee University and her parents were both civil rights attorneys who filled their home with music. Her classical training began at the age of eight and she was later accepted into the D.C. Youth Orchestra. Calley’s love for fashion and music led her to launch a swimwear line and incorporate her harp skills into her social media presence. The pandemic led to a shift in her focus towards recording R&B covers which received widespread acclaim on social media. Despite facing challenges early on as a black harpist, Calley is now dedicated to making learning the harp more accessible and is currently teaching students virtually. She is also working to become an ambassador for the Berkeley School of Music admissions program, helping recruit BIPOC students. Calley’s journey has led her to explore the African origins of the harp, and she has recently started playing the ngoni, a traditional instrument from Mali, West Africa.
Nailah Hunter is a talented multi-instrumentalist and composer based in Los Angeles, California. She showcases her versatility as a musician by combining traditional instruments like the harp with electronic elements, found sounds, and her hauntingly beautiful voice. Her music creates a spiritual and otherworldly atmosphere, filled with magic, wonder, and healing energies. Nailah’s compositions are designed to promote self-awareness and relaxation, drawing listeners into a tranquil world of rest and contemplation. With a unique approach to music creation, Nailah’s ambient soundscapes are a result of her imagination and evoke a sense of peacefulness and serenity. With several releases to her name, including “Bassin Bleu”, “Spells”, and “Black Valhalla”, Nailah continues to captivate audiences with her unique and inspiring sound.
Brandee Younger is a talented American harpist known for infusing classical, jazz, soul, and funk influences into her music. She is an accomplished performer who has worked as a sideman for prominent musicians such as Pharoah Sanders, Jack DeJohnette, and Lauryn Hill and has also led her own ensemble. Younger was featured in the documentary Homecoming by Beyoncé and presented a spotlight performance at Quincy Jones’ “Soundtrack of America”.
Growing up in Hempstead and Uniondale, NY, Younger started her harp studies as a teen and continued her education at The Hartt School of the University of Hartford, where she earned degrees in Harp Performance and Music Business. She later attended New York University and established her career as an educator, concert curator, performer, and bandleader. Her debut EP, Prelude, was released in 2011 and was followed by Live At The Breeding Ground, Wax & Wane, and other recordings.
Younger has also made a name for herself as an educator, serving on the teaching artist faculty (harp) at The Harlem School of the Arts and The New School. In addition, she has performed with various orchestras such as The Harlem Chamber Players and Hartford Symphony Orchestra. As an independent artist, Younger has self-managed her career and has performed on The Tonight Show with The Roots and Salaam Remi. In 2020, she contributed to the live-streamed recording of Bilal’s EP VOYAGE-19.
Younger’s musical talent, combined with her dedication to education, has made her a standout figure in the world of music. Her unique sound and passion for the art have earned her recognition and accolades, making her a sought-after performer and educator.