Ben Harper is an American musician, known for his success as an artist, instrumental skills and social activism. He was born on October 28, 1969 as Benjamin Chase Harper to Leonard and Ellen-Chase Verdries in Pomona, California. His father was African American and his mother was Jewish. He came from a musical family which influenced him throughout his life. His father was a percussionist, his mother was a guitarist and singer and his maternal grandparents established a music store by the name of “The Folk Music Center and Museum”. Harper learned to play guitar at an early age and was initially attracted to hip-hop but soon turned to blues music in grand family tradition. As a child, Harper attended a concert by reggae legend Bob Marley which helped to define his tastes to a great extent.
Harper had his first stage appearance at the age of 12 and soon began to play the slide guitar in the style of American blues singer Robert Johnson. He then toured with Grammy Award winning blues musician Taj Mahal, and appeared on his 1990 album “Follow the Drinking Gourd”. Another collaboration in 1992, this time with Tom Freund, led to the 1992 album “Pleasure and Pain”. Harper’s own debut album was released in 1994, after he secured a record deal with Virgin Records. It was titled “Welcome to the Cruel World” and was followed by his second album “Fight For Your Mind” in 1995.
Harper was known for his socially conscious music. For instance, his first album “Welcome to the Cruel World” featured a track called “Like A King” which was a reference to both, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rondey King, who was beaten up by the police in a racially motivated incident. Another song on the album, “I Rise” had lyrics adapted from renowned African American author Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”. His second album also contained socio-political messages and he often spoke against issues like racial prejudice. He also participated in the “Vote For Change” concert in 2004 to motivate people to vote in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Elections. He is also part of the No Nukes group which is an organization that speaks against expansion of nuclear power.
Harper has released a number of acclaimed albums over his career including “The Will to Live”, “Burn to Shine”, “Diamonds On the Inside”, “There Will Be a Light”, “Both Sides of the Gun”, “Give Till It’s Gone” and “Get Up!”. He has won three Grammy Awards for “Best Pop Instrumental Performance” and “Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album” in 2005 and “Best Blues Album” in 2014. He is renowned internationally, perhaps more so abroad than at home. His albums and tours are vastly successful in European countries such as France, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. He was even named French Rolling Stone magazine’s “Artist of the Year” in 2003. He also has a huge fan following in Australia and New Zealand.
Harper is a prominent philanthropist and contributes to nonprofit organizations such as “Little Kids Rock” which works to rejuvenate musical education in poorly funded U.S. public schools. He was first married in 1996 to a woman named Joanna with whom he has 2 children. the couple divorced in 2001 after which he married actress Laura Den in 2005. The couple has two children together. The marriage ended in 2013 when their divorce was finalized.