|For the most part, the harp has had no place of prominence in our music
culture. There aren't many African-American boys or girls demanding that
their parents buy harps or pay for lessons. But in the last few years Jeff
Majors has struck a new chord in our music consciousness. Majors, who serves
as the Director of Gospel Music Programming for Radio One's gospel stations,
Spirit 1340 AM and 1400 AM, has released two CDs that prominently feature the
ethereal sound of the harp. The music has received widespread commercial
support and even gained Majors a Stellar Award Nomination.
"This nomination tells me that the gospel industry and the gospel community
have embraced the harp and less so Jeff Majors. They're embracing an
instrument that had been taken out of the church thousands and thousands of
years ago. For them to recognize that this instrument belongs back in the
service and back in the mainstream of gospel music, makes me feel very
satisfied," Majors shared with Metro Connection. But, he explained that he
feels even more gratified that the inherent spirituality of the harp is
gaining increased recognition.
The D.C. native admits that his own introduction to the instrument was
profoundly unique and deeply spiritual. It came to him in a dream. One night
at 15, this young black boy went to sleep and when he woke up he was able to
describe to those around him the vision he had received of this unique
"I had never seen a harp before in my life, and I definitely didn't know what
to do with it either," Majors recalled. He was much more familiar with the
trumpet his mother had introduced to him at a very early. "But it was a very
real dream and the next morning I woke up sweating profusely and I knew that
something special had happened."
He would later share the dream with a cabinetmaker, and it was he who
identified the instrument as a harp. Soon after, the cabinetmaker, who had
aspirations of making music instruments, built Majors a miniature harp using
guitar pegs and strings. This may not have been the harp as it was played by
the Psalmist David, but it was the beginning of Majors' journey as a harpist.
After finishing high school Majors joined his father in California. Again, he
recounted is musical dream to a family friend. Majors said at first he
seriously thought this friend was going to take to see a psychiatrist but
instead he was introduced to Alice Coltrane, wife of jazz legend John
Under Coltrane's tutelage Majors mastered playing jazz music on the harp. He
said that while some do not readily connect jazz and the harp, it is an
instrument that can be applied to any music genre. In fact the harp is
enjoying some renewed popularity, not only in classical and Irish/Scottish
music, but in blues and new age music. "It (the harp) is adaptable, it has
only been restricted by the limited exposure that it has gotten," said Majors.
However, gospel music is where the harp is most at home. "It is closely
associated with angelic voices because of the properties of the instrument,"
said Majors. "From its inception it was meant to be an instrument of healing
and deliverance." Majors was also quick to add that it is an instrument that
black people can proudly claim. "Absolutely! It is the mother of all string
instruments coming out of Africa," he said.
Indeed history suggests that the harp is the oldest of the stringed
instruments. The oldest harp still in existence was found at Ur in Sumer (an
ancient country of southern Mesopotamia in present-day Southern Iraq) and
dates back to 2600 B.C.E. Depictions of harps from the same period and
earlier have been found in Egypt. It is presumed that the harp moved westward
from Egypt to Greece and Italy as early as the 6th century B.C.E.
In naming his own harp Hanifa, Majors makes an explicit connection between
the instrument and Africa. "Hanifa was a queen in one of the small provinces
of Egypt. It is said that her beauty and wisdom was so strong and powerful,
she was able to keep peace in and heal her village. It is my intent to
exemplify that same beauty and wisdom through sound," said Majors.
Majors is well on his way to accomplishing that goal. With each song, the
listener is taken on an inspirational journey. Although many of his songs may
be very familiar, Majors' arrangement breathes new life into each musical
message. The words `peaceful,' `calm,' `soothing' and `uplifting' have all
been correctly used to describe the music of "Sacred" and "Sacred 2000" as
well as Majors' tender and adept manipulations of the harp's strings. And it
has connected with people across the board. But Majors said that popular
acceptance was not a priority in putting the project together.
"My motive has never changed, it has always been very pure...that people
would be blessed by it. I did this from a totally inner perspective and it so
happened that it has touched the core universally," said Majors.
On Friday, June 8 (7-11 p.m.), Majors will headline a Pre-Father's Day
concert at the New Palmist Baptist Church (4501 1/2 Old Fredrick Road,
Baltimore, MD). The concert is a presentation of Radio One stations Spirit
1400 & WOLB. Majors will be joined by The Sacred Orchestra and The Sacred
Voices as well as Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Jean Carne, Malik Yoba, Sandtown
Children of Praise, and the New Palmist Choir. Tickets are $20. For tickets
and information call Music One, Inc at 1-888-454-5490.
You can also catch Majors on Sunday mornings at 6 and 9 a.m. on WMAR-TV,
Baltimore, Maryland. Majors has signed on as the host of the Sunday Gospel
show "Grace & Glory." The program premiered on April 22nd and Majors has
signed on for an initial 13 week run. Majors will share hosting duties with
Gavin "The Baby Bishop" Montgomery, a popular on air personality from Spirit
1400 AM radio station in Baltimore. Grace & Glory focuses on guest
interviews, video reviews, and features on local church ministries. Plans
also include presenting live performances by local & national gospel artists.