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Dorothy Ashby: Wikis


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Dorothy Ashby
Birth name Dorothy Jeanne Thompson
Born August 6, 1932(1932-08-06)
Detroit, Michigan, United States
Died April 13, 1986 (aged 53)
Santa Monica, California
Genres Jazz
Occupations Musician
Instruments Harp, piano

Dorothy Ashby (August 6, 1932 – April 13, 1986) was an American jazz harpist and composer.[1]

Along with Alice Coltrane, Ashby extended the popularization of Jazz harp past a novelty, showing how the instrument can be utilized seamlessly as much a Bebop instrument as the saxophone. Her albums were of the jazz genre, but often moved into R&B, World and other musics, especially on her 1970 album The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby, where she plays the Japanese musical instrument, the koto, demonstrating her talents on another instrument, and successfully integrating it into jazz.

Her musical legacy is great; music from her albums has been sampled numerously by hip hop musicians, ensuring her sound is heard often, though she is seldom recognized for her important contributions. Though marginalized by her singular instrument, Ashby is now recognized as a true musician of great skill and creativity.



Born Dorothy Jeanne Thompson on August 6, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan, Ashby grew up around music in Detroit where her father, guitarist Wiley Thompson, often brought home fellow jazz musicians. Even as a young girl, Dorothy would provide support and background to their music by playing the piano. She attended Cass Technical High School where fellow students included such future musical talents and jazz greats as Donald Byrd, Gerald Wilson, and Kenny Burrell. While in high school she played a number of instruments (including the saxophone and string bass) before coming upon the harp.

She attended Wayne State University in Detroit where she studied piano and music education. After she graduated, she began playing the piano in the jazz scene in Detroit, though by 1952 she had made the harp her main instrument. At first her fellow jazz musicians were resistant to the idea of adding the harp, which they perceived as an instrument of classical music and also somewhat ethereal in sound, into jazz performances. So Ashby overcame their initial resistance and built up support for the harp as a jazz instrument by organizing free shows and playing at dances and weddings with her trio. She recorded with Ed Thigpen, Richard Davis, Jimmy Cobb, Frank Wess and others in the late 1950s and early 1960s. During the 1960s, she also had her own radio show in Detroit.

Ashby's trio, including her husband John Ashby on drums, regularly toured the country, recording albums for several different record labels. She played with Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman, among others. In 1962 Downbeat magazine's annual poll of best jazz performers included Ashby. Extending her range of interests and talents, she also worked with her husband on a theater company, the Ashby Players, which her husband founded in Detroit, and for which Dorothy often wrote the scores.

In the 1960s Dorothy Ashby, together with her husband, John Ashby formed a theatrical group to produce plays that would be relevant to the African American community of Detroit, Mich. This production group went by several names depending on the theater production. The group was most commonly called the Ashby Players or the Ashby's, but the production company also went by the names Aid to Creative Arts, Artists Productions, and the Ashby Players of Detroit.

They created a series of theatrical musical plays that Dorothy and John Ashby produced together as this theatrical company, The Ashby Players. In the case of most of the plays, John Ashby wrote the scripts and Dorothy Ashby wrote the music and lyrics to all the songs in the plays. Dorothy Ashby also played harp and piano on the soundtracks to all of her plays. Dorothy even starred in the production of the play "3-6-9" herself. Most of the music that she wrote for these plays is available only on a handful of the reel to reel tapes that Dorothy Ashby recorded herself. Only a couple of the many songs she created for her plays later appeared on LPs that she released. Later in her career, she would record records and perform concerts primarily to raise money for the Ashby Players theatrical productions.

The theatrical production group β€œThe Ashby Players" not only produced Black theater in Detroit, Mich. and Canada against stiff odds but they provided early theatrical and acting opportunities for actors such as Ernie Hudson (of Ghostbusters 1 and 2). Ernie Hudson (credited as Earnest L. Hudson) was a featured actor in the Artists Productions version of the play β€œ3-6-9”.

In the late 1960s, the Ashbys gave up touring and settled in California where Dorothy broke into the studio recording system as a harpist through the help of the soul singer Bill Withers, who recommended her to Stevie Wonder. As a result, Dorothy was called upon for a number of studio sessions playing for such popular recording artists as Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Barry Manilow. Her harp playing is featured in the song "Come Live With Me' which is on the soundtrack for the 1967 movie, Valley of the Dolls. One of her more noteworthy performances in contemporary popular music was playing the harp on the song "If It's Magic" on Stevie Wonder's 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life. She is also featured on Bill Withers' 1974 album, +'Justments.

Ashby died from cancer on April 13, 1986 in Santa Monica, California.

The High Llamas recorded a song entitled 'Dorothy Ashby' on their 2007 album Can Cladders.


As leader

As sideman

With Freddie Hubbard

With Wade Marcus

With Billy Preston

With Stevie Wonder


External links

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