Women harmonica players
To add to what has been written here recently about female
First off, someone mentioned Memphis Minnie. I believe she was a
blues singer and guitarist but NOT a harmonica player (I could be
wrong). Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton was, howver, and a good
Karen Mantler is an interesting player. Daughter of jazz composer
and pianist Carla Bley, somewhere in her late 20's (I'm
guessing), Karen has two records out, "My Cat Arnold," and "Karen
Mantler and her Cat Arnold Get the Flu," usually found in the
jazz section of fairly large record stores. She writes a lot of
tongue in cheek lyrics - one song is a dirge about how she misses
her stove (it moved to another town). She plays various
keyboards, and, all too rarely, some Toots-influenced chromatic.
She has bits here and there on her mother's albums, as well.
Little Annie Raines is one very good blues harmonica player out
of Cambridge Mass. She can currently be heard on a new album on
Tone-Cool TC-1148 by Paul Rishell, "Swear to tell the Truth." She
appears on three cuts, playing both acoustic and electric (She
currently is gigging with Rishell, as well, and they're looking
to expand their circuit beyind New England). She has great tone
and a good rapport with Rishell. Expect to hear a whole lot more
from this fine player.
Maria Wolfsberger was mentioned by Jack Ely. I met her at the
1993 world Championships in Germany, but missed hearing her play
(too much was going on, and it was very badly scheduled). Later
she wrote to say that she is studying at the Mozarteum in
Salzburg, Austria. She has to take piano and flute because they
have no program for harmonica (a common complaint of harmonica
players who go to music school; why do you think so many of them
double on other instruments?). She's very ambitious, and loves to
travel, and has a lot of ideas about writing for the harmonica.
She grew up in a small town in Austria that has an excellent
youth harmonica orchestra, in which she was very active, as well
as in smaller harmonica groups and piano duos.
Howard Levy, who normally hates the chromatic, loves her playing.
"like an Angel," he says, and "I would pay money to hear her
Just a note on women and the harmonica from a numerical point of
view. Casual analysis of first names of mail-order buyers of
harmonica related products suggests that about 10 percent of
harmonica players are women (the numbers are skewed by ambiguous
names like "Sandy" and the use of initials, and by women buying
gifts for male relatives and friends). Women players are rarely
seen as players in a blues or rock context, but where they are
seen somewhat more are among the over 60 crown at harmonica
conventions. Over time, some have decided, I guess, that instead
of being widowed by their husbands' fanatical harmonica
obsessions, that they would join in and start playing in a groups
with them, as a social activity.
One woman who crops up in that milieu, as a decidedly top-level
player, is bass harmonica player Judy Simpson Smith, who, with
her husband, chord player Al Smith, forms a rhythm section behind
other players (they form two third of the Harmonica Hotshotz,
backing chromatic soloist Larry Stutz). The two also give
intensive seminars, teaching music reading, ensemble playing, and
some basic theory, through group workshops.
Another woman who crops up at conventions is Bishon Prushankin,
the Harmonica Lady. She wears bracelets and necklaces of Little
Lady miniature harmonicas, and goes into schools to introduce
children to musical learning through the harmonica. Her husband
Jim is something of a Johnny Appleseed of the harmonica as well,
giving them away on trips to foreign countries, and teaching the
recipients to play a few tunes. He documents these activities and
those of his wife in photo essays which he prints up and
distributes at his own expense.
Publisher, HIP - the harmonica Information Publication
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