Ben Harper

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The Artivist

It could be said that the multi-instrumentalist musician Ben Harper was practically born with a guitar in his hand (if he was, it would have had to have been a Weissenborn lap steel guitar).

His grandparents ran the famous and beloved Folk Music Center in Claremont, California, which they opened in 1958. Ben was raised in a hub of activists, poets, artists and of course great musicians. They included frequent patrons such as Chris Darrow, Leonard Cohen, Jackson Browne and Taj Mahal – the latter of whom gave Ben his first major tour and asked him to record Follow the Drinking Gourd with him (1990), all of which culminated in playing with Taj on Austin City Limits (which would become the 1st of 5 times Ben would be on the show).


Born October 28, 1969 as the sixties came to a howling end, and having been raised in such a potent community, Ben’s music and career embodies that musical brilliance, open mindedness, lyrical honesty and abiding social activism of that pivotal time.

With over 15 million records sold worldwide, the career of this multi-GRAMMY® award-winning musician, producer, activist and now, record label founder, spans decades, during which he has been established as a singularly powerful songwriter and performer with range across multiple genres with a rare ability to blend the personal and political.

The Interview
The statement

After his successful tour and record release with Taj Mahal, Ben returned to California and in 1992 teamed up with childhood friend Tom Freund to record Pleasure and Pain. In 1993 Virgin Records offered Harper a worldwide recording contract and he released his debut, Welcome to the Cruel World in 1994.

The album was created with musicians who would eventually become known as the Innocent Criminals (percussionist Leon Mobley, bassist Juan Nelson and drummer Oliver Charles). What makes the band so unique is that they come from different places musically and complement each other because of the different styles that they play. This led to a string of successful and critically acclaimed albums and the accolades poured in.