Published on March 3, 2013 by Casey
Benjamin Chase “Ben” Harper (born 28 October 1969) is an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Harper plays an eclectic mix of blues, folk, soul, reggae and rock music and is known for his guitar-playing skills, vocals, live performances and activism. Harper’s fan base spans several continents. His albums have been commercially successful in North America, Europe and Oceania. Harper is a two-time Grammy Award winner as well, winning awards for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album, in 2005.
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Harper was born in Pomona, California. His father, Leonard, was of African-American and Cherokee ancestry,and his mother, Ellen Chase-Verdries, is Jewish. His maternal great-grandmother was a Russian-Lithuanian Jew. His parents divorced when he was age five, and he grew up with his mother’s family. Harper has two brothers, Joel and Peter.
Harper began playing guitar as a child. His maternal grandparents’ music store The Folk Music Center and Museum laid a foundation of folk and blues for the artist, complemented by regular patrons Leonard Cohen, Taj Mahal, John Darnielle, and David Lindley and quotes of William Shakespeare and Robert Frost made often by his grandfather.
In 1978, at the age of 9, Harper attended reggae superstar Bob Marley’s performance in Burbank, California (joined by former bandmate Peter Tosh in the encore, thus making it a sort of historical performance), which was according to Harper an important influence. At the age of 12, Harper played his first gig. During the ’80s, in his teen years, Harper began to play the slide guitar, mimicking the style of Robert Johnson. Next, Harper refined his style, taking up the Weissenborn slide guitar. Harper broke out of the Inland Empire after being offered an invitation by Taj Mahal to tour with the artist. They recorded Taj Mahal’s album Follow the Drinking Gourd, released in November 1990, and toured Hawaii.