Folk, blues, hard rock, country, jazz and reggae are just a few of the genres that singer, songwriter and guitarist Ben Harper has delved into throughout his career. His eclecticism has made him hard to categorize, and he’s played alongside all types of other performers (as a participant in the H.O.R.D.E. festival, as well as guesting on albums by artists as diverse as John Lee Hooker and Beth Orton).
Raised in a musical family, Harper (born Benjamin Chase Harper on October 28th, 1969 in Pomona, California) picked up the guitar at an early age and began performing publicly at 12. Shortly after appearing alongside Taj Mahal at a concert in 1992, Harper signed with Virgin Records. His first album, Welcome to the Cruel World, introduced him as a folk-rocker with a soft, evocative voice and politically charged lyrics. Songs like “How Many Miles Must We March,” “Like a King” and “I’ll Rise” (with lyrics by Maya Angelou) demonstrate his Woody Guthrie-like propensity to write simply structured songs with sociopolitical messages.
Fight for Your Mind (1995) features Harper’s precocious capabilities on the Weissenborn (a hollow-necked lap-steel guitar), while The Will to Live (Number 89, 1997) and Burn to Shine (Number 67, 1999), by he and his band the Innocent Criminals, highlight his move toward a more electric, amplified sound. The latter included the funky “Steal My Kisses,” which reached Number 15 on the Adult Top 40 chart and led to his opening for the Dave Matthews Band in 2000. Harper released the double-disc Live From Mars in 2001, and toured extensively before releasing his next album of new material, the worldbeat-heavy Diamonds on the Inside (Number 19, 2003). The following year, he collaborated with the Blind Boys of Alabama on an album of gospel songs, There Will Be a Light. Featuring original songs, covers and traditionals, the disc reached Number One on Billboard’s gospel albums chart and took a Grammy for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album.
Read more: Rolling Stone Magazine