Grammy-nominated harpist Deborah Henson-Conant has been described by some critics as "the talented love child of André Previn and Lucille Ball."
For good reason too. The Boston native doesn't just sit elegantly at a 6-foot high, 80-pound harp and produce soothing classical music behind an orchestra. She combines the talent of a gifted musician with the spunk of a true entertainer.
She rocks at center stage on an 11-pound harp strapped to her 58-year-old body as if it were an electric guitar, belting out songs and cracking jokes.
"I love to rock on my harp," Henson-Conant said in a recent telephone interview with the Herald. "I'm very physical when I play. I move around a lot on stage and this little baby has become part of my body now."
Trumpet player Doc Severinsen called her "the wild woman of the harp." Rock guitarist Steve Vai said Henson-Conant is the "Jimi Hendrix of the harp."
Tri-Citians will get a chance to see and hear this rockin' harpist when she performs Feb. 24 for the Community Concert Tri-Cities show at the Faith Assembly Church auditorium in Pasco.
Henson-Conant will play a wide range of music from rock to jazz, maybe a little classical and portions of her 2006 recording Invention and Alchemy that brought a Grammy nomination.
Her harp is a carbon fiber creation that competition bike manufacturers helped design, she said.
"Who better than bike racers know the importance of weight?" she said. "The bike industry provided tremendous help and design for this harp, keeping it light so I can do my thing on stage."
Henson-Conant, born in Stockton, Calif., remembers her first introduction to the strings of a harp.
"I was just a kid sitting on our porch when I tried it the first time," she said. "I loved the sound it made."
She began playing harp professionally with a symphony, but found that environment too tame for her wilder musical tastes.
Henson-Conant has performed in symphony halls as a soloist with major orchestras, and plays intimate shows in clubs, festivals and theaters internationally.
She has toured with the Boston Pops, opened for Ray Charles at Tanglewood, jammed on-stage with Bobbie McFerrin and offstage with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, and starred in the PBS special Celtic Harpestry. She has also been featured on the CBS Sunday Morning show and the Today Show as well as National Public Radio's Weekend Edition and Warped on the Food Network.
Henson-Conant sees herself as a musical storyteller. And her wild tales are as mesmerizing as her harp savvy, which reinforces her reputation as a musician who passionately follows her creative path.
Her costume garb ranges from cowboy boots to glittery tops and short skirts, but she recently traded in her long dreadlocks for a short 'do.
"Once I discovered the beautiful sound this harp made, I wanted to explore what this instrument could do," she said.
That exploration is far from over, she added.
Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Tickets to the concert are by season pass to the Community Concert Series, or individual cost is $20 adults and $10 for students. Tickets are available at www.communityconcertstc.org or call 547-6243.
-- Online: hipharp.com
*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org