Rashida Jolley at NPR's performance studio.
Rashida Jolley at NPR's performance studio. Amy Ta/NPR
Washingtonian Rashida Jolley is known for bringing an unusual instrument into the worlds of pop, R&B and hip-hop: the harp.
She captured attention after competing on the hit show America's Got Talent in 2009. She went on to collaborate with some top names in the music industry. She did a world tour with Lady Gaga, opened for John Legend and performed at the Ludacris Foundation's tribute to Quincy Jones.
Jolley is now focusing on her solo career. Her debut album, Tales of My Heart, is shaped by her personal experiences and inspirations.
In a performance chat with Tell Me More host Michel Martin, Jolley explains that both of her parents played tremendous roles in shaping her career.
Her mother came up with the idea of playing the harp, and Jolley — who had studied the violin, piano and flute — ended up falling in love with the multistring instrument.
Jolley hopes to continue the legacy of her late father, a professional jazz guitarist and the first person to earn a jazz studies degree from Howard University.
"He was offered a record deal, the opportunity to go on a worldwide tour. But he turned it down because he didn't want to be away from his kids. There are seven of us altogether," Jolley says. "So he sacrificed his career, and his dream was to go back into music after he raised all of his kids. Unfortunately, he passed away unexpectedly before we all became adults."
Jolley says she remembers that sacrifice each day. She aims to honor her father, who had a heart defect, in her music and in her work with the American Heart Association, encouraging others to live healthy lifestyles.
The songstress is also an advocate for military families and dedicates her new song, "So Far Away," to them. Jolley recalls her brother coming up with the idea for the song: "He said, 'Let's write a song about the families of those who are in the military, because it's hard on them when they have a relative go away, you know.' And recently I got an email from my god-brother who is away now. And he has kids, and he has a wife. And it's hard for him. It's hard for the family."
Jolley adds that she is a big believer in love — from a soldier's love of country to the love she witnessed between her parents. And all of that is reflected in Tales of My Heart.