San Francisco Free Folk Festival, 6.9.18 (Photo by Cathy Schultz)
An instrument like the harp doesn’t exactly inspire imagery of driving bass lines and mainstream appeal, and that’s what 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 taking the harp out of type-cast genre constraints and doing things differently.
Her debut 2018 album ‘Who Asked You Back’ blends folk roots with blues-y riffs and a splash of mainstream pop. Stripped down solo harp and voice meets electric guitar from Sam Eigen (Smash Mouth), creepy mythology meets attitude-laden break up songs, and the harp meets a whole new vault of possibilities.
Since her independent album release in February, EllaHarp has toured 5 states with more than 50 live performances. Opening for metal-meets-bagpipes band, Celtica on Oahu, Irish singer/songwriter, Keith Harkin in Missouri and San Francisco, and Grammy winning singer, Mya in San Diego, as well as headlining local festivals.
“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 therhythmic 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, Gor and some guy named Frank (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 during 2011-12 and moved myself up to the Bay Area for what I find to be the happy medium between Scotland’s soggy unpredictably and LA’s burning fire of death.
My wee house, Little Yellow
These days I fervently pursue write music, swim in the ocean, and make all my clothes, jewelry, and pretty much everything on me except for my boots. Which I will one day try, but I’ve a feeling it’s going to be fairly complicated. I blog at http://www.littleyellowdoor.wordpress.com.
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’.