Gillian Grassie (say “Jillian”) is an award-winning harpist/singer-songwriter whose signature blend of jazz-inflected indie folk/pop showcases her “knack for turning seemingly insignificant events into songs worthy of everyone’s attention,” (Origivation Magazine). She has performed in thirteen countries on four continents, bringing the folk harp to new audiences in sold-out venues from The Tin Angel in Philadelphia to The Matador in Siberia. In January 2013, Grassie released her sophomore album, The Hinterhaus, produced by Todd Sickafoose (Anaïs Mitchell, Ani DiFranco). The recording was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that succeeded in the first five days, ultimately raising 175% of its goal in contributions from fans, including Janis Ian, who also lent guest vocals and piano to the project.
Frequently weaving stories of her travel (mis)adventures into sets more evocative of Regina Spektor than Joanna Newsom, Grassie’s charming, comfortable, & engaging stage presence has won her a growing audience of devoted listeners. Grammy-winner Marc Cohn has said of her live performance: “It’s rare to hear a young singer with such control and understated soulfulness, and even more rare to hear a harp provide such a deep percussive groove. I was immediately captivated by her sound.” Her innovative use of the harp, expressive vocals, & sophisticated but accessible songwriting prowess have earned her grants from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation & the U.S. State Department, a slew of awards, & the fervent support of her fans.
In her youth, she studied bel canto and sang with choirs in such prestigious venues as Heinz Hall, Symphony Hall, and The National Cathedral. Her interpretations of traditional Scottish harp repertoire earned first place prizes in five competitions and an invitation to perform at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival, where she debuted at the tender age of fourteen. After a chance encounter with the poetry of Philip Larkin during a high school English class and the discovery of her parents’ Joni Mitchell records in their attic, Grassie began writing her own songs, ultimately graduating early to jump into the Philadelphia singer-songwriter scene with her debut EP, To an Unwitting Muse (2005).
Grassie wrote, recorded, and released her first full-length album, Serpentine (2007), while still a student at Bryn Mawr College. She again graduated on an accelerated schedule, earning her B.A. in Comparative Literature cum laude. Her music is often inspired by literary works, with references to Philip Larkin, Robert Frost, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Faulkner, & Francis James Child woven throughout. Upon graduation, Grassie was awarded a 2009-2010 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a grant that funded a yearlong, independent study of emerging music scenes across Europe and Asia. Grassie traveled solo through France, Germany, India, Indonesia, China, and Russia with her harp for the fellowship and penned most of the songs for The Hinterhaus during the journey. In 2010, Grassie became one of four founding members of the ESL Folk Project, a cultural and educational initiative funded by the U.S. State Department that uses traditional old-time American folk music as a vehicle for English Language education. The ESL Folk Project toured throughout Russia and was invited to perform and teach their original curriculum again in a 2011 tour of Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. She has given master classes for the American Harp Society and led songwriting workshops at the School Vor De Kunsten in Groningen, The Netherlands.
Grassie has been profiled in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Times of India, and on NBC 10, but perhaps more telling are the glowing fan reviews on iTunes, Pandora, and CDBaby, whose praise is often as articulate and sensitive as the music it describes. One listener wrote: “Serpentine is really impressive, in the traditional sense of the term; it’s left an imprint on me. Her music is completely unique; you take her music on her terms; she isn’t derivative at all. Gillian knows what she wants to say and knows exactly how to say it. At an age (and in an age) when younger performers are either finding their style or – mostly – copying others’, Gillian Grassie has already clearly established her sound and her voice.” Another fan described her as “an awesome combination of Pippi Longstocking, folk musician, intellectual salon hostess, drinking buddy, and the Mata Hari. Trust me, you never saw anything like this.”
Grassie continues to strike the delicate balance between innovative and accessible, with recent performances at the Times Center for New York’s TedxEast conference, a 21-date tour of Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands, a 26-date tour of Italy, and a YouTube channel in excess of 160,000 views.
Grassie was a longtime harp student of Janet Witman and vocal student of Dr. Jeffrey Anderson. Over the course of her career she has taken workshops, private lessons, and masterclasses with artists such as Catriona McKay, Park Stickney, Deborah Henson-Conant, Dr. Carrol McLaughlin, Isobel Mieras, Corrina Hewat, Grainne Hambly, Rüdiger Oppermann, Bill Taylor, and Elizabeth Blakslee, and is an alumna of the Brandywine Harp Orchestra. Her festival appearances include the XPoNential Music Festival, Appel Farm Arts & Music, Musikfest, Edinburgh International Harp Festival, Blindspot Festival, & the Pushkin FORCE Festival in Russia.