Leni Stern (born Magdalena Thora in Munich, Germany) is an electric guitarist, singer, and n'goni (Malian banjo-guitar) player. She was interested in music from an early age, beginning piano studies at the age of six and taking on the guitar age of eleven. Forming her own acting company at the age of seventeen, Stern attracted media attention and performed her radical productions in front of sold-out European crowds.
In 1977, Stern chose music over acting, and left Germany for the United States to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, studying film scoring. She gave up film scoring in favor of the guitar and moved to New York City in 1981, playing in various rock and jazz bands. In 1983, she formed a band of her own with Paul Motian on drums and Bill Frisell on guitar. She has been awarded the Gibson Guitar Female Jazz Guitarist of the Year five consecutive times.
She has released fifteen solo recordings, the latest being 2013's "Jelell" recorded in Dakar, Senegal. The 1985 Clairvoyant was the first. Her most recent releases juxtapose Stern's trademark inventive guitar and vocal explorations with the indigenous sounds of accomplished West African instrumentalists and singers. She has worked with Bassekou Kouyate and Ami Sacko, Salif Keita, Toumani Diabate, Baaba Maal and many other master musicians. She is featured in the full-length documentary "Last Song Before the War" about the Festival in the Desert in Timbuktu, Mali.
Her cover of Laura Nyro's song "Upstairs by a Chinese Lamp" appeared on Time and Love: The Music of Laura Nyro, the Laura Nyro tribute album. Leni Stern Recordings (LSR) was established in 1997. The label has enabled Stern to keep complete control of her recordings and independent artistic voice. LSR's first release was Stern's first full-length vocal release, Black Guitar. Ted Drozdowski of the Boston Phoenix described Stern's voice sounding "something like Marlene Dietrich borrowing Billie Holiday's phrasing."