Hotel Utah, 12.27.18. Photo by Cass Cleave
An instrument like the harp doesn’t exactly inspire imagery of driving bass lines and mainstream appeal, and that’s what San Francisco Bay Area based harpist, singer songwriter Ella Dawn Jenkins, aka EllaHarp is working to change.
Armed with a fresh take on contemporary blues, the musical lineage of composer/arranger Gordon Jenkins, and a unique instrument she designed for the purpose, EllaHarp is pushing the harp out of type-cast genre constraints and doing things differently.
Her independently released debut album ‘Who Asked You Back’ received airplay on over 85 radio stations nationally and internationally, and reached #4 and #2 on Roots Music Reporter Top 50 Folk and Top 50 Contemporary Folk Album Charts.
Since releasing her 2018 album, EllaHarp has toured 7 states and a province with over 150 live performances, from Bay Area festivals (most recently Noise Pop 2020) to Irish pubs in Honolulu to ‘The Bitter End’ in NYC to opening for Grammy winning singer Mya in San Diego and showcasing at Canadian Music Week 2019 in Toronto.
“Blues-tinged bass lines and drones depart from the celestial plucks and swirls typically associated with her ancient instrument…understated, intimate vocals are set off by the rhythmic snap and resonance of her harp strokes”
–Jesse Hamlin, San Francisco Chronicle
Technically I was born in a horse trough. Filled with water, in my grandparent’s Broad Beach home in Malibu. Technically my mother was by herself, because who really needs doctors for these trivial types of things.
My grandfather and Sinatra
My paternal grandfather, composer/conductor/arranger Gordon Jenkins had bought this home in the late 40s to get away from the crowds in LA. A few years later, a family moved in down the street. My mother’s father, Bill Ulyate, was a saxophonist/studio musician/band leader at Disneyland (Carnation Plaza), and the two musicians held a mutual respect for each other. Years later, Bill’s youngest daughter and Gor’s youngest son became my parents, the boy and girl next door.
Grandpa Bill on sax
When I was 8, after moving to the mountains and many run ins with horses and tepees and goats I began taking harp lessons. My sister played as well, and every week on Friday for 8 years, my mom drove us nearly 100 miles each way to my teacher’s house and back.
My love for traditional music took me all the way to Glasgow Scotland, where I knew a grand totally of absolutely no one, on an unconditional acceptance to the RSAMD (now RCS) in Scottish harp and Gaelic song. 3 years there and a final year studying Gaelic at the quaintest college in the world (Sabhal Mor Ostaig on the Isle of Skye) I returned home a pasty shade of grey and dying for sunshine and vitamin D.
I built a very small house on a trailer 2011-12 and moved myself up to the Bay Area for what I find to be the happy medium between Scotland’s soggy unpredictability and LA’s burning fire of death.
My tiny house, Little Yellow
These days I am a full time musician touring with a small harp I designed to fit in the overhead bin of an airplane. 7 states, 1 province and counting.
Interesting fact: my grandfather, Gordon Jenkins, wrote the song ‘Crescent City Blues’ which Johnny Cash shamelessly ripped off for his well known song ‘Folsom Prison Blues’.