Dorothy Ashby

Dorothy Ashby had to convince her peers that the harp was a viable jazz instrument, and once they accepted her into their ranks, she didn’t disappoint. Born in Detroit, Michigan, on August 6, 1930, Ashby was originally a pianist who adopted the harp in her early 20s. Alice Coltrane, the other top name in jazz harp and a fellow Detroiter, would make her solo debut more than decade after Ashby’s emergence. Ashby arrived as a solo artist with her debut album, The Jazz Harpist, in 1957, and released albums at a steady clip through 1970. The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby, released in 1970, would prove to be her last album as a leader for 14 years, but is also noteworthy for her extensive use of the Japanese koto, another rarity in the jazz world. Her recording output in the 1970s was mostly found on other people’s records, as she was featured on albums from Bill Withers, Minnie Riperton, Billy Preston, Bobby Womack, and on Stevie Wonder’s iconic Songs in the Key of Life. She also remained active in her hometown of Detroit, and built on her background in music education by operating a community theater with her husband, which put on plays and performances that were tailored to appeal to Detroit’s black residents. Her unique, sometimes otherworldly sound was appreciated by subsequent generations of forward-thinking hip-hop artists, who sampled her work regularly. Pete Rock, Madlib, the Pharcyde, J Dilla, Blood Orange, Flying Lotus, and Ghostface Killah all integrated her music into their work, which has helped her music and legacy live on well after her death on April 13, 1986.

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Stations Featuring Dorothy Ashby

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