Siddhartha Mitter, Color Lines

Brandee Younger remembers the time she wished Barack Obama happy birthday on Facebook. “Six people blocked me,” the harp player says. “Two were harpists.” It wasn’t really a surprise. The harp world likes to keep politics out. Once, Younger was offering downloads of a song for Trayvon Martin at a harp festival. The director objected. “It was just a song I composed for a boy who was killed!” she says. Younger takes it in stride. She always stood out, as a young Black woman who grew up on Long Island playing harp, and became a virtuoso. “I didn’t have models who looked like me,” she says. “But I was kind of used to doing my own thing.” Trained in classical music, Younger gravitated to jazz at the University of Hartford, and now roams across genres freely. She’s played with jazz legends like Pharoah Sanders, but also with John Legend, Common and Drake. Her second LP, “Wax & Wane,” came out in 2016, with a sextet including regular collaborators Chelsea Baratz on saxophone and Dezron Douglas on bass. It’s soul-jazz with lavish helpings of funk and, in places, a hip-hop sensibility. Younger often plays compositions by two great harpists in jazz history: the late Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane. After Coltrane died in 2007, Younger – then just 23 – played harp at her star-studded memorial. “No pressure at all!” she says with a chuckle. Younger keeps up with classical harp, even though its gatekeepers are fusty. But she credits jazz for her creative direction. “Veering off in this direction as an adult offered me a great deal of liberation.”

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