Studio Sessions
10:28 am
Thu April 19, 2012

For Rashida Jolley, A Harp To Make More Than Music

Originally published on Fri December 14, 2012 12:49 pm

Washingtonian Rashida Jolley is known for bringing an unusual instrument into the worlds of pop, R&B and hip-hop: the harp.

She captured attention after competing on the hit show America's Got Talent in 2009. She went on to collaborate with some top names in the music industry. She did a world tour with Lady Gaga, opened for John Legend and performed at the Ludacris Foundation's tribute to Quincy Jones.

Jolley is now focusing on her solo career. Her debut album, Tales of My Heart, is shaped by her personal experiences and inspirations.

In a performance chat with Tell Me More host Michel Martin, Jolley explains that both of her parents played tremendous roles in shaping her career.

Her mother came up with the idea of playing the harp, and Jolley — who had studied the violin, piano and flute — ended up falling in love with the multistring instrument.

Jolley hopes to continue the legacy of her late father, a professional jazz guitarist and the first person to earn a jazz studies degree from Howard University.

"He was offered a record deal, the opportunity to go on a worldwide tour. But he turned it down because he didn't want to be away from his kids. There are seven of us altogether," Jolley says. "So he sacrificed his career, and his dream was to go back into music after he raised all of his kids. Unfortunately, he passed away unexpectedly before we all became adults."

Jolley says she remembers that sacrifice each day. She aims to honor her father, who had a heart defect, in her music and in her work with the American Heart Association, encouraging others to live healthy lifestyles.

The songstress is also an advocate for military families and dedicates her new song, "So Far Away," to them. Jolley recalls her brother coming up with the idea for the song: "He said, 'Let's write a song about the families of those who are in the military, because it's hard on them when they have a relative go away, you know.' And recently I got an email from my god-brother who is away now. And he has kids, and he has a wife. And it's hard for him. It's hard for the family."

Jolley adds that she is a big believer in love — from a soldier's love of country to the love she witnessed between her parents. And all of that is reflected in Tales of My Heart.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, we want to tell you about a very special performer, someone many people have called one of a kind. What makes her one of a kind? Well, she's a native Washingtonian. She fuses pop, R&B and hip-hop, and she does all that while accompanying herself on an unusual instrument, her harp.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RASHIDA JOLLEY: (Singing) I've been knowing you for a long time. You've been running through me. No, I can't lie. I never met no one - touched my life like you've done. Feels like...

MARTIN: She has long been a Washington area sensation, but she captured the nation's attention after competing on the hit show, "America's Got Talent," in 2009. She earned standing ovations throughout the competition, then went on to collaborate with some top names in the music industry. She just finished a world tour with Lady Gaga, opened for John Legend and performed at the Ludicrous Foundation's tribute to Quincy Jones.

Now, Rashida Jolley is working on her solo career and her debut album is called "Tales of My Heart" and she was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studio, our performance studio 4A.

Rashida Jolley, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining us.

JOLLEY: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Look at you, all growed up. And I can say that because I say, in the Washington, D.C. area, people have been seeing you perform since you were a little girl. Yeah. How did you get that bug?

JOLLEY: You know what? I can't take any credit for it. My father was a professional jazz guitarist, Howard University's first person to receive a degree in jazz studies, and he just reared all of his children in music.

So I started at a very young age. I started singing in choir and I started studying harp, and harp came from my mother - the idea.

MARTIN: I was going to ask about - why the harp?

JOLLEY: Yeah. Only my mother's idea. She just said to me one day, you're going to play the harp. I had studied different instruments, violin, piano, flute. And, one day, she just said, harp is the one. So I ended up falling in love with this instrument and never letting go of it.

MARTIN: Were you so little that it didn't occur to you to object?

JOLLEY: No. I did object at first. I'm like, a what? A harp? But, you know, I've learned how to listen to my mother or, you know - or major consequences. So I'm going to listen to her.

MARTIN: Well, why didn't you want to? Because it wasn't cool? You thought, nobody plays the harp.

JOLLEY: Well, yeah. Because it wasn't cool. It wasn't like piano or drums or guitar. It wasn't a cool instrument. But it was also my mother who came with the idea of me taking the harp and doing pop and R&B music with it. So my mom is full of good ideas. I tend to try to follow her direction.

MARTIN: Good idea. She has a track record. I do want to just talk a little bit more about your dad before we talk about you and your career, because you actually talk very movingly about the influence that he has had on your career. He's no longer with us and I'm so sorry for that.

JOLLEY: Thank you. Thank you.

MARTIN: Would you just talk a little bit more about that, though?

JOLLEY: Yeah. My father was my greatest inspiration. And my father was - he was offered a record deal, the opportunity to go on a worldwide tour, but he turned it down because he didn't want to be away from his kids. There are seven of us altogether. And so he sacrificed his career and his dream was to go back into music after he raised all of his kids. Unfortunately, he passed away unexpectedly before we all became adults. So everyday that I get up I remember that. My goal is to leave this Earth feeling as if I honored him.

MARTIN: Well, let's hear some music then. Let's - I think you're going to play something for us. I think you're going to play "Play My Heart" from your new CD.

JOLLEY: Yes, it's up on YouTube, the video is. And the song is on iTunes right now, it's called "Play My Heart."

MARTIN: All right. Well, let's hear it.

JOLLEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLAY MY HEART")

JOLLEY: (Singing) Met you on the dance floor, feeling your vibe. Something about you caught my eye. So crazy I got lost in a trance from the moment that you reached for my hands. I had to face the truth, why not be close to you. You make me want to move. So I'm a playing my heart till we dance away on the dance floor. On the dance floor, I'm a play my heart till we dance away on the dance floor.

(Singing) On the dance floor, I'm a play my heart till we dance away on the dance floor. On the dance floor, I'm a play my heart till we dance away on the dance floor. I'm a give, I'm a give my heart on the dance floor. On the dance floor, I'm a play my heart. I'm a give my heart. I'm a play my heart. I'm a give my heart.

MARTIN: "Play My Heart," that is from Rashida Jolley's new CD. Her debut album, it's called "Tales of My Heart." She's here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. And she's a singer as, of course, you heard and also a harpist.

This thing is huge, by the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: This is thing is huge.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You can't really do a lot of dancing around with that thing. So, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...maybe you have a smaller one that you perform with actually.

JOLLEY: Yeah, I do. I've two. I have a small one that weighs seven pounds. I can strap it on to me like a guitar.

MARTIN: We mentioned that you had been on tour with Lady Gaga. Did you - is that...

JOLLEY: Yes.

MARTIN: Did you use the little one or the big one?

JOLLEY: For the slower songs I did on tour, I used the big harp. And for the up-tempo pop songs we used the little ones.

MARTIN: The little baby harp. Do they have names?

JOLLEY: You know what? I call this Big Mama. And I call the little harp, Little Mama.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I could see that. And, as we mentioned, you also opened John Legend. What have those experiences been like?

JOLLEY: Absolutely incredible. And what's amazing is really the opportunity to share the music that comes from heart. And that's what the album is about, the "Tales of My Heart."

And in those opportunities, like opening up for John Legend and the event that I got to do with - the tribute to Quincy Jones, being able to just do, you know, the music that comes from inside of me that was inspired by my father and everything that I went through, from the beautiful relationship I saw between my parents, to even the lows of some of my personal experiences that I've had in love, just to be up to express that through my CD. And to be able to perform it is wonderful.

MARTIN: Would you talk a little bit about the "America's Got Talent" experience though? Because, you know, it seems as though we kind of have a love it or hate it relationship with these reality shows now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You know, on the one hand, people love these things. They're wildly popular. On the other hand, some people think that these shows are really - they just kind of give people license to be mean. So what's you're experience with it. What was it like for you?

JOLLEY: Sure.

MARTIN: What was it like for you?

JOLLEY: What was it like?

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

JOLLEY: They're the positives and negatives, the pros and the cons of being on TV talent show like that. But, you know, it was great because it's what you do with it. I think that's what counts. You can turn it into a positive. And not too long after I did "America's Got Talent," I went on a worldwide tour with Lady Gaga. After going on a worldwide tour with Lady Gaga, I'm putting out my own project.

So it's always what you turn it into. You know, there are challenges in everything. Challenges in the industry...

MARTIN: What was the biggest - is it the time management piece? Is it trying to fit into a certain image of women performers? Or what's the hard part about it?

JOLLEY: You know, one of the challenges is that when you're doing those shows you don't really get the opportunity to be able to do your original music; that's really your sound and your style. But it gives you the opportunity to be able to get the exposure so that you can put out your music, and you can put out your style and your sound. So, I'd say that negative turned into a positive picture. So...

MARTIN: That makes sense to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: No, I understand. That makes sense to me. That makes sense to me. So, let's hear some more of your music. I understand that you would play "There's No One Else Like You," I think you want.

JOLLEY: Yes, that's right. It's a song that I wrote about my parents. They had a beautiful love story. And my father, who was also songwriter, I feel that - because I wrote this song after my father passed away - I feel that the words came from him, and I was a messenger to give that to my mother. And the name of the song is called "There's No One Else Like You."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THERE'S NO ONE ELSE LIKE YOU")

JOLLEY: (Singing) There's no one else like you, who cares for me like you do. I give my all to you. I'll never let you get down. There's no one else like you, who cares for me like you do. I give my all to you. Never would, there would never be a tale where you'll ever hear me say that I want to walk away. Through the ups and downs, I promise I will be around. I found true love. True love (unintelligible).

(Singing) There's no one else like you, who cares for me like you do. I give my all to you now.

MARTIN: That's Rashida Jolley. She singing "There's No One Else Like You." It's from her debut album "Tales Of My Heart." I'm holding my breath here. It's like I can't...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Oh, wow. Well, you've also - at a very early age got involved in things like encouraging, you know, healthy living, healthy lifestyles. You've been involved with the American Heart Association.

JOLLEY: Yes.

MARTIN: So kind of unusual for somebody your age to do. And also, getting involved with military families. I understand that you wrote a song called "So Far Away," that's dedicated to the military families in this country. What gave you the idea?

JOLLEY: You know what? For both things, I was inspired by my father. My father died unexpectedly from a heart defect and it really inspired me to want to do something, not just through music but also through giving back to be able to honor my father's legacy. And to be able to prevent someone else from prevent someone else from going through what I went through - a child losing a parent or a parent losing a child.

And so, when my father passed away from his heart defect it inspired me to start changing my lifestyle, and inspired by family. And I said you know what? I need to use my music as a vehicle to be able to inspire other people as well, so that we can only extend our lives. And then just to me. This was the idea of my brother and he said, let's write a song about the families of those who are in the military, because it's hard on them when they have a relative go away, you know.

And recently I got an e-mail from my god-brother who is away now. And he has kids and he has a wife. It's hard for him. It's hard for the family so, just as a dedication to them to let them know you're not forgotten. And I'm just a big believer in love; the love that people have for this country to make that sacrifice is priceless.

MARTIN: Well, thank you so much for coming by. And, you know...

JOLLEY: Thank you.

MARTIN: ...I hope you'll keep us posted, all of your adventures. You know, hopefully you'll, you know, check-in from time and wave at us.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I understand you're - did you feel like playing "So Far Away" for us, before we let you go?

JOLLEY: Yeah, sure. This is called "So Far Away."

MARTIN: OK. Well, Rashida Jolley is a harpist, singer and songwriter. Here debut album is called "Tales of My Heart." And she was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. performance Studio 4A to share some stories with us and some tales from her heart.

JOLLEY: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, she's going to sing "So Far Away."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC "SO FAR AWAY")

JOLLEY: (Singing) Your eyes speak to me. They say you will go but you can't say it to me. You know and I know it. this came from a...

MARTIN: That was singer/songwriter/harpist Rashida Jolley performing her new songs, "So Far Away." Her debut solo album is called "Tales of My Heart."

And that's our program for today. And remember to tell us more. Please go to npr.org and find us under the Programs tab, you can find our podcast there. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter @tellmemorenpr.

I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC "SO FAR AWAY")

JOLLEY: (Singing) And I need to see your face. Are you coming home? Lost inside of your picture, I need to touch your hand. Imagine you're right here in my... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.