Benjamin Chase "Ben" Harper (born , 1969) is an American musician, known for his guitar-playing skills and his activism.
Harper was born in Claremont, in California's Pomona Valley. He began playing guitar as a child. His maternal grandparents' music store The Folk Music Center and Museum laid a foundation of folk and blues for the artist, complemented by regular patrons of Leonard Cohen, Taj Mahal and David Lindley and quotes of William Shakespeare and Robert Frost made often by his grandfather. During the 80s, in his teen years, Harper began to play the slide guitar, mimicking the style of Robert Johnson. Next, Harper refined his style, taking up the Weissenborn. Harper broke out of the Inland Empire after being offered an invitation by Taj Mahal to tour with the artist. The 20 year-old Harper and the blues legend then recorded Follow the Drinking Ghour(d) and toured the Fiftieth State.
As a young man, Harper recorded the LP Pleasure and Pain with Folk multi-instrumentalist Tom Freund. After this limited edition record, Harper secured a record deal with Virgin Records, which released his debut album, Welcome to the Cruel World (1994).
This was followed by Fight For Your Mind (1995), which became a college radio favorite and generated an abundance of songs that still fill his set lists to date.
In 1999 at the Santa Barbara Bowl, Harper met Jack Johnson, who was unknown at the time and had not recorded. Harper obtained a demo tape of 12 of Johnson's songs that he forwarded to his producer, J.P. Plunier, with whom Johnson recorded his first album.
Ben Harper, Massey Hall, Toronto, ON
From early on in Harper's career, his music received more attention in Europe and was widely played in Australia (first aired on Triple J radio) giving massive exposure even more than it did in his home country. 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 (his musicianship put him on the lineup of featured singers covering Motown hits by Marvin Gaye on the classic 2002 documentary, "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," the story of the Funk Brothers) he was 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 is such that he was French Rolling Stone magazine's Artist of the Year (Artiste De L'Ann?Še) in 2003, and his tour that year for Diamonds on the Inside with the music video filmed in Australia and played to packed arenas across the continent.
In October 2004, Harper participated in the Vote for Change concert tour organised to benefit Moveon.org and encourage people in the swing states to vote during the 2004 U.S. presidential election. Also in October, 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.
Over the summer of 2005, when the Zooma tour scheduled with Trey Anastasio and various side stage performers was canceled, Harper engaged in a tour of more private clubs/venues such as the Avalon Ballroom in Boston, the Tabernacle in Atlanta, and a full-band acoustic performance at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. This series of concerts saw the debut of a number of new songs, such as "Get It Like You Like It" and "Why Must You Always Dress in Black."
In 2006, Harper released the double album Both Sides of the Gun which debuted at #7 on the Billboard charts.
Harper finished a worldwide tour in support of the album in 2006, with support from Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley on the North American leg.
Though uncredited, he appears briefly in the 2006 David Lynch film Inland Empire, alongside his wife Laura Dern.
Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals recorded a new album, Lifeline, in Paris. It was released in 2007. He also covered John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" on the benefit CD Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur.
Ben has achieved great success in Brazil and Portugal, because of his collaboration "Boa Sorte/Good Luck" with Brazilian singer Vanessa da Mata, which peaked at #1 in the Portuguese charts.
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 new version of the Buffalo Springfield song "For What It's Worth".
Ben Harper formed a new band in 2008, Relentless7, with Texas-based musicians Jason Mozersky (guitar), Jesse Ingalls (bass) , and Jordan Richardson (drums). The album White Lies for Dark Times, credited to Ben Harper and Relentless7, was released on May 4, 2009. On July 12 2009, Ben Harper and the Relentless 7 performed the closing concert of the 30th Montreal International Jazz Fest in front of over 100,000 spectators.
Ben Harper is multi-ethnic. His father, Leonard, was of African-American and Cherokee ancestry, and his mother, Ellen Chase-Verdries, is Jewish . His parents divorced when he was five, and he grew up with his mother's family. Harper has two brothers, Joel and Peter Harper.
From 1996 to 2001, Harper was married to Joanna. They have two children, son Charles Joseph and daughter Harris. On , 2005 Harper married his girlfriend of five years, actress Laura Dern. They have two children together, son Ellery Walker Harper (b. August 21, 2001) and daughter Jaya (b. November 24, 2004).
In 2008 he participated in a music album called Songs for Tibet, which is an initiative to support Tibet, Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso and to underline the human rights situation in Tibet. The album was issued on via iTunes and on in music stores around the world.
Awards and nominations
Rolling Stone (France)
Artist of the Year
Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance
Grammy Award for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album
Fight for Your Mind
Burn to Shine
Live from Mars