Brandee Younger

"We're creating new life…for the instrument" —Brandee Younger
a black woman in her 30s, one hand on her golden harp and the other on her hip. She wears a multicolored iridescent strapless dress, and has voluminous shoulder-length curls

Brandee Younger was born and raised in Hempstead, New York. As a teen in the early 1990s, she bopped to the beats of artists like LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, and Busta Rhymes. Among these hip hop greats, she discovered twentieth-century harpist and bandleader Dorothy Ashby’s music by way of hip hop legend Pete Rock. Younger began playing harp at the age of eleven and eventually enrolled at the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut where she studied classical music. It was through the encouragement of legendary saxophonist Jackie McLean that she made her first foray into jazz with the harp.

Hearing Ashby for the first time led her to envision new possibilities for herself as a harpist. “She was covering all of these popular tunes and soundtracks [of the time] and I wanted to do that. She's playing pop, jazz and everyone’s sampling her–DJ Premier, Pete Rock, J. Dilla. Hearing, then seeing her as a Black Woman, while I'm this random little isolated black girl playing a harp by myself was everything to me.” Younger forged her way with a small but mighty group of Black women harpists as examples—Sarah Lawrence from her hometown, Ann Hobson-Pilot, Dorothy Ashby, and Alice Coltrane—who were consistent sources of inspiration.

In 2006, after graduating from the Hartt School, Younger went on to develop a name for herself on the jazz and commercial recording scene in New York City. To date, her performance roster is fierce. As a side-woman, she has played alongside jazz icons such as Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Coltrane, Jack DeJohnette and Reggie Workman. Younger’s commitment to carrying the torch can also be seen through her work as a performer and educator. In 2008, she earned a Master of Music from New York University’s Steinhardt School. During this time, she began to work seriously as an educator. She has been guest faculty and lecturer at numerous universities including but not limited to Berklee College of Music, Princeton University, Howard University and Tulane University. Currently, she serves as teaching artist faculty at New York University and The New School.

In 2020, Younger was named winner of the DownBeat Critics Poll in the category of "Rising Star" harpist. Her work as side-woman is evidence of Younger’s undeniable presence in the sound of contemporary jazz today. In recent years, she has appeared on albums by Lakecia Benjamin, Robert Glasper, Jeremy Pelt, The Baylor Project and Makaya McCraven, just to name a few. In addition to her contributions as a side-woman, Younger’s commitment to honoring the legacy of Black women harpists can be seen through her curatorial work. She has curated a number of performances dedicated to honoring the work of Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane. This work speaks to her dedication as a purveyor of Black music and history.