Ben Harper

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Ben Harper
Harper at the Eurockéennes in 2008
Harper at the Eurockéennes in 2008
Background information
Birth nameBenjamin Charles Harper
Born (1969-10-28) October 28, 1969 (age 54)
Pomona, California, U.S.
Years active1992–present
LabelsVirgin, EMI Records, Chrysalis
Formerly ofRelentless7
Fistful of Mercy
The Innocent Criminals Edit this at Wikidata

Benjamin Charles Harper[1] (born October 28, 1969) is an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.[2] Harper plays an eclectic mix of blues, folk, soul, reggae, and rock music,[3] and he is known for his guitar-playing skills, vocals, live performances, and activism.[4] He has released twelve studio albums, mostly through Virgin Records, and has toured internationally.[5][6]

Harper is a three-time Grammy Award winner and seven-time nominee, with awards for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album in 2004 and Best Blues Album in 2013.[7]

At the 40th Blues Music Awards ceremony, Harper's joint composition with Charlie Musselwhite, "No Mercy in This Land", was named Song of the Year.[8]

Early life[edit]

Harper was born in Pomona, California.[2] His late father, Leonard Harper, was of African-American ancestry, and his mother, Ellen Harper Verdries (née Chase),[9][10] is Jewish. His maternal great-grandmother was a Russian-Lithuanian Jew.[11][12][13] His parents divorced when he was five years old, and he grew up with his mother's family. Harper has two brothers, Joel and Peter Harper.

Harper began playing guitar as a child.[14][15] His maternal grandparents' music store, the Folk Music Center and Museum (Claremont, CA), laid a foundation of folk and blues for the artist, complemented by regular patrons Leonard Cohen, Taj Mahal, John Darnielle, and David Lindley and quotes of William Shakespeare and Robert Frost made often by his grandfather.[16]: 5 

In 1978, at the age of 9, Harper attended Bob Marley's performance in Burbank, California, where Marley was joined by former bandmate Peter Tosh for the encore. It was, according to Harper, an important influence.[17]


At the age of twelve, Harper played his first gig.[18] During the 1980s, in his teen years, Harper began to play the slide guitar, mimicking the style of Robert Johnson. Harper refined his style, taking up the Weissenborn slide guitar.[16]: 11  Harper left the Inland Empire after being offered an invitation by Taj Mahal to tour with the artist. They recorded Taj Mahal's album Follow the Drinking Gourd, released in November 1990, and toured Hawaii.[16]

Harper on stage in 2003

In 1992, Harper recorded the LP Pleasure and Pain with folk multi-instrumentalist Tom Freund. After this limited-edition record, Harper secured a lifetime record deal with Virgin Records,[19] which released his debut album, Welcome to the Cruel World, in 1994. This allowed him to be invited to the Rencontres Trans Musicales of Rennes in France in December 1993 where he went up on a large stage for the first time. His first album was followed by Fight For Your Mind in 1995, with Juan Nelson on bass, which became a college radio favorite and included several songs that Harper still plays live regularly.[20]

In 1999, at the Santa Barbara Bowl, Harper met Jack Johnson and sent a demo tape of Johnson's songs to his producer, J. P. Plunier, who then produced Johnson's first album, Brushfire Fairytales, in December 2000.[21] Jack Johnson became the opening act in late February 2001 for the last 23 cities of Ben Harper's “Innocent Criminals” tour of the United States.[22]

Early in Harper's career, his music received more attention in Europe and was widely played in Australia (first on Triple J radio). Harper has made comments on a number of occasions that his career was kicked off in Australia. While he was a well-known and respected figure in the United States, he was also a star in countries like Australia, New Zealand, France, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, receiving a great deal of airplay and critical acclaim. His popularity in Europe became wide enough that he was French Rolling Stone magazine's Artist of the Year (Artiste De L'Année) in 2003,[23] and his Australian tour that year for Diamonds on the Inside was highly successful with record sales.

In 2002, Harper was one of the featured singers covering Motown hits by Marvin Gaye in the documentary, Standing in the Shadows of Motown (a history of The Funk Brothers). Harper was featured on the album True Love by Toots and the Maytals, which won the Grammy Award in 2004 for Best Reggae Album, and showcased many notable musicians including Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Trey Anastasio, Gwen Stefani / No Doubt, Bonnie Raitt, Manu Chao, The Roots, Ryan Adams, Keith Richards, Toots Hibbert, Paul Douglas, Jackie Jackson, Ken Boothe, and The Skatalites.[24]

On April 3, 2004, Harper and Jack Johnson performed with Toots and the Maytals on Saturday Night Live (season 29, episode 16), a show hosted by Donald Trump.[25][26]

Ben Harper backstage with Toots and the Maytals and Jack Johnson.

In October 2004, Harper participated in the Vote for Change concert tour organized to benefit and encourage people in the swing states to vote during the 2004 U.S. presidential election. In the same month, Harper contributed a live recording of the song "Oppression" to For The Lady, a benefit album for jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Harper playing a Weissenborn in Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario, 2008

In 2006, Harper released the double album Both Sides of the Gun which debuted at number 7 on the Billboard 200. Though uncredited, he appears briefly in the 2006 David Lynch film Inland Empire, alongside his wife Laura Dern.

Harper is part of the No Nukes group, which is against the expansion of nuclear power. In 2007 the group recorded a music video of a version of the Buffalo Springfield song "For What It's Worth".[27][28] Harper's collaboration "Boa Sorte/Good Luck" with Brazilian singer Vanessa da Mata peaked at #1 in Brazil and Portugal. In Brazil it also won a highly coveted Prêmio Multishow for "Best Song" in 2008. Also in 2008, Harper participated in the benefit album Songs for Tibet.

On August 27, 2010, it was reported that Harper had formed a band called Fistful of Mercy with Dhani Harrison and Joseph Arthur.[29] Fistful of Mercy released their debut record, As I Call You Down, on October 5, 2010.[30]

On May 17, 2011, Harper's official site posted that his next album was released, titled Give Till It's Gone. The album is a continuation of recording with Relentless7.[31]

On October 1, 2012, an album from Harper with Charlie Musselwhite was announced titled Get Up! on Stax Records / Concord Music Group. The official release date for the album was January 29, 2013. Get Up! was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Harper. It is Harper's 12th studio album and first recording since 2011's Give Till It's Gone (Virgin).[32]

In December 2012, it was announced that Harper had co-produced lead vocalist Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks first solo rock album Mother.[33] It was released on May 7, 2013.[34]

In early 2015, it was announced that Harper and the Innocent Criminals would perform at the Boston Calling Music Festival in May 2015.[35] Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals performed at Rock Werchter Festival 2015 on June 28, 2015.[36]

On February 12, 2016, Harper released (as a YouTube video) the single "Call It What It Is", the first track taken from his studio album Call It What It Is, released on April 8, 2016.

On April 8, 2019, Harper performed as a guest artist on the seventeenth season of American Idol during the second night of the “Top 20 Duets” episode. Harper sang with contestant Alejandro Aranda, playing "There Will Be a Light".[citation needed]

At the 40th Blues Music Awards ceremony, Harper's joint composition with Charlie Musselwhite, "No Mercy In This Land", was named as 'Song of the Year'.[8]

On March 20, 2019, Mavis Staples announced the album We Get By, featuring eleven tracks written and produced by Harper.[37] The title track, which features Harper on vocals and in the music video, was released on May 15, 2019.[38]

In 2020 Harper released Winter Is for Lovers, an album recorded with solo Monteleone lap steel songs. "It started out as an exploration of steel guitar," Harper told Acoustic Guitar magazine in a 2020 interview, "Winter Is for Lovers is written as one piece of music; let's define that in the way that the old classical guitarists would have, on a single guitar (the Monteleone lap steel).[39]"

On June 9, 2021, Harper's longtime bassist, collaborator, and Innocent Criminals member, Juan Nelson, died at the age 62. Harper paid tribute to him, stating on Twitter: "Beloved husband, father, musical genius, BHIC band member of 27 years, and the finest man I've ever known. It's near impossible for me to put words to this pain and loss. Rest in Glory our beloved Reverend Juan." No cause of death has been confirmed.

On July 22, 2022, Harper released the album Bloodline Maintenance.[40] The album is dedicated to the memory of Juan Nelson.

Personal life[edit]

Harper with his second wife, Laura Dern, in December 2009

In 1996, Harper married his first wife, Joanna.[41] They have two children together, son Charles (born circa 1997) and daughter Harris (born circa 2000).[41] Harper and Joanna separated in 2000, and were divorced in 2001.[41]

Harper began dating actress Laura Dern after they met at one of his concerts in fall 2000.[41] Harper and Dern married on December 23, 2005, at their home in Los Angeles.[42] They have two children,[2] son Ellery Walker (born August 2001)[41] and daughter Jaya (born November 2004).[43]

In October 2010, Harper filed for divorce from Dern, citing irreconcilable differences.[44] They briefly reconciled and attended the 2012 Golden Globe Awards together,[44] but Dern reactivated the divorce by filing a legal response in July 2012.[44] The divorce was finalized in September 2013.[45]

Harper married his third wife, social advocate Jaclyn Matfus, on January 1, 2015.[6] Their son Besso was born in June 2017.[46]

Harper is a skateboarder who has trained with Rodney Mullen and he also owns a warehouse for his personal skateboarding. Harper co-owns the skateboarding brand Roller Horror with professional skateboarder Mike York.[47] In September 2016, Harper appeared on The Nine Club skateboard podcast, hosted by Chris Roberts, where he discussed his relationship and history with skateboarding.[48] On The Nine Club, he also reveals that he went to school and began skateboarding with Chris Miller in Pomona, California.

Harper's cousin is Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez.[citation needed]


Harper supports Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofit organization that works to restore and revitalize music education in disadvantaged U.S. public schools. In 2013, he donated items to their San Francisco Bay Area benefit concert.

On December 11, 2016, he played an acoustic benefit concert at Bimbos in San Francisco supporting New Light India's "Boys Home Project". Founded in 2000 by Urmi Basu, New Light India provides shelter, educational opportunities, recreational facilities, healthcare and legal aid for the girls and women in Kalighat, notorious for its red light district.

Harper and his wife, Jaclyn, have been long-time supporters[49] of International Medical Corps’ work around the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they supported the organization's work in California, and Harper recorded a song[50] to benefit International Medical Corps’ global relief efforts.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Show Award/Nomination
2003 Rolling Stone (France) Artist of the Year
2005 Grammy Award Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance
2005 Grammy Award Grammy Award for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album
2014 Grammy Award Grammy Award for Best Blues Album


Studio albums


Year Title Notes
1998–2001 Daria Episode: "See Jane Run" (Song: "Faded")
Episode: "Camp Fear" (Song: "Burn to Shine")
2001 I Am Sam Song: "Strawberry Fields Forever"
2002 Standing in the Shadows of Motown Songs: "Ain't Too Proud To Beg"/"I Heard It Through the Grapevine"
Searching for Debra Winger Song: "The Three of Us"
2003 rage Episode: "Grinspoon Guest Program Rage"
Song: "Ground on Down"
One Tree Hill Episode: "Crash Into You"
Song: "Empty Apartment"
Joan of Arcadia Episode: "Death Be Not Whatever"
Song: "Blessed to Be a Witness"
2004 Saturday Night Live Episode: "Donald Trump/Toots and the Maytals"
Song: "Love Gonna Walk Out on Me"
Sleepover Song: "Walk Away"
2005 Trust the Man Song: "Everything"
2006 Akeelah and the Bee Song: "Everything"
The O.C. Episode: "The Dawn Patrol"
Song: "Waiting For You"
CSI: NY Episode: "And Here's to You, Mrs. Azrael"
Song: "Walk Away"
Ultimate Sessions Song: "Whipping Boy"
2007 Arctic Tale Song: "Happy Ever After in Your Eyes"
2008 Henry Poole Is Here Song: "Morning Yearning"
Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Nightclub Song: "People Lead"
Daylight Robbery Song: "Diamonds On The Inside"
2009 State of Play Song: "Please Don't Talk About Murder While I'm Eating"
House Episode: "Brave Heart"
Song: "Faithfully Remain"
2010 Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Episode: 2.152 (Song: "Father's Song")
Episode: 2.7 (Songs: "With a Little Help from My Friends", "Walk With You")
Les Petits Mouchoirs Song: "Amen Omen"
Vampire Diaries Episode: Katerina
Song: "Amen Omen"
The Fighter Song: "Glory & Consequence"
Close to the Dream Song: "Better Way"
2010–2011 Conan Episode: October 11, 2010 (Song: "Father's Son")
Episode: May 25, 2011 (Song: "Rock n' Roll is Free")
2011 Wretches & Jabberers Song: "More Like You"
2012 The Girl Song: "Waiting on an Angel"
Redfern Now Episode: Raymond
Song: "Not Fire Not Ice"
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
2010–2013 Late Show with David Letterman Episode February 2, 2012 (Song: "Lay There & Hate Me")
Episode May 18, 2011 (Song: "Rock n' Roll is Free")
Episode April 29, 2013 (Song: "We Can't End This Way")
2011–2013 The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Episode May 24, 2011 (Song: "Rock n' Roll is Free")
Episode November 18, 2011 (Song: "Save the Hammer for the Man")
January 22, 2013 (Song: "I Don't Believe a Word You Say")
2014 The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson Episode: June 13, 2014
Song: "Learn It All Again Tomorrow"
2023 Extrapolations Episode: "2070: Ecocide" (Character: Tyrone Downs)


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  4. ^ Pulvirenti, Angela (August 19, 2007). "Ben Harper interview". Nine MSN (music). ninemsn Pty Ltd. Archived from the original on August 19, 2007. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
  5. ^ "Ben Harper". Discogs. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
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  7. ^ "Grammy nominations and wins - Ben Harper". Grammy. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  8. ^ a b "2019 Blues Music Awards Winners Announced". Retrieved May 11, 2019.
  9. ^ "Ben Harper And Mom Ellen Reflect On A Lifetime Immersed In A Folk Music 'Wonderland'". Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  10. ^ "Folk matriarch Ellen Harper now striking a chord with her music". Daily Bulletin. July 31, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  11. ^ Plunier, JP (February 3, 2008) [1994]. "Ben Harper | Roots | Part one". Les Inrockuptibles (no. 58). Archived from the original on February 3, 2008. English translation from an article originally in French.
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  13. ^ Hodgkinson, Will (February 14, 2003). "Blood in the tracks". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  14. ^ Roots_ Part one Archived December 19, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Celebrity Jews | j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California". February 11, 2005. Retrieved December 31, 2011.
  16. ^ a b c Appleford, Steve. "I'll Rise: The Music and Message of Ben Harper" Page 5. Essay published in the Ben Harper CD Box Collection. Released April 6 , 2000.
  17. ^ " | Ben Harper Discusses Bob Marley". YouTube. May 17, 2012. Archived from the original on November 3, 2021. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  18. ^ "Ben Harper Celebrity Profile, News, Gossip & Photos". AskMen. Archived from the original on January 24, 2010. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  19. ^ Randy Bachman, VinylTap, CBC Radio, July 7, 2012
  20. ^ "Ben Harper - Biography". Billboard. Archived from the original on October 16, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  21. ^ "Harper takes both sides | The Honolulu Advertiser | Hawaii's Newspaper". The Honolulu Advertiser. April 21, 2006. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  22. ^ "Jack Johnson Interviews". Archived from the original on October 26, 2009. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  23. ^ "Ben Harper Biography". October 28, 1969. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  24. ^ "Linear CD Notes". Archived from the original on November 10, 2016.
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  26. ^ "Saturday Night Live - TV Guide". Retrieved May 11, 2019.
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  28. ^ "Nuclear Information and Resource Service". NIRS. Archived from the original on June 9, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
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  30. ^ "Consequence of Sound". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved December 31, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  31. ^ "Give Till It's Gone | The Official Ben Harper Website". May 17, 2011. Retrieved December 31, 2011.
  32. ^ "Get Up! | The Official Ben Harper Website". October 1, 2012. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
  33. ^ "The Official Natalie Maines Music Site". Archived from the original on July 16, 2013. Retrieved July 12, 2013.
  34. ^ Maines, Natalie [@1NatalieMaines] (December 20, 2012). "Good news!I made some calls and had them push the end of the world to sometime after the release of my album, #Mother 5/7/13.You're welcome" (Tweet). Retrieved December 21, 2012 – via Twitter.
  35. ^ Ollman, Jonah (January 13, 2015). "Boston Calling Announces May 2015 Lineup". Sound of Boston. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
  36. ^ "Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals - Artist - Rock Werchter 2015". Archived from the original on August 22, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  37. ^ Blais-Billie, Braudie (March 20, 2019). "Mavis Staples Announces New Album We Get By, Shares New Song "Change"". Pitchfork. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  38. ^ "Mavis Staples - "We Get By" (Feat. Ben Harper)". YouTube. May 15, 2019. Archived from the original on November 3, 2021. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  39. ^ "How a New Lap Steel Guitar Sparked Ben Harper's First Instrumental Album | Acoustic Guitar". November 30, 2020. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  40. ^ "ALBUM REVIEW: Ben Harper follows the roots of pain on Bloodline Maintenance". July 18, 2022. Retrieved July 22, 2022.
  41. ^ a b c d e Miller, Samantha (February 4, 2002). "Dern Happy". People. Archived from the original on September 22, 2013. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  42. ^ "Actress Laura Dern Marries Ben Harper". People. December 23, 2005. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  43. ^ "Laura Dern gives birth to a daughter". Today. November 2004. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  44. ^ a b c Johnson, Zach (July 9, 2012). "Laura Dern Reactivates Dormant Divorce From Ben Harper". Us Weekly. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  45. ^ "Laura Dern, Ben Harper Divorce Is Finalized". Huffington Post. September 11, 2013. Retrieved September 11, 2013.
  46. ^ "Ben Harper and Wife Jaclyn Matfus Welcomed a Baby Boy in June: Details". US Magazine. March 9, 2017. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  47. ^ Chris Roberts & Roger Bagley. "16 - Ben Harper". The Nine Club With Chris Roberts (Video). Google Inc. Archived from the original on November 3, 2021. Retrieved September 28, 2016.
  48. ^ "#16 - Ben Harper". THE NINE CLUB WITH CHRIS ROBERTS. Archived from the original on October 11, 2017. Retrieved June 26, 2017.
  49. ^ "Ben Harper marries third wife Jaclyn Matfus". February 25, 2015.
  50. ^ "Ben Harper—International Medical Corps' Supporter". November 10, 2020.

External links[edit]