Corky Hale

“Around the time that Corky Hale became a first-call studio harpist in Hollywood in the mid-1950s, she recorded two superb small-group jazz albums: Herbie Harper and Corky Hale Plays George Gershwin and Vernon Duke. On both 1955 albums, Corky was featured playing the harp almost like a guitar—displaying a swinging technique, gorgeous chord phrasing and smart line improvisation,” writes journalist, Marc Myers in his blog, Jazz Wax. [1] She was only 19 when she recorded those albums! Here’s a track from the Herbie Harper Octet album which prominently features her playing:

Myers goes on to say, “Corky is way too modest. In fact, she played harp on nearly every major West Coast jazz-pop date that called for one, including albums in Ella Fitzgerald’s Songbook series, Chet Baker Sings and Plays (1955), Anita (1955) with Anita O’Day backed by Buddy Bregman’s orchestra, June Christy’s Misty Miss Christy (1956) and sessions by Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. And this is just the tip of her jazz and pop discography.” [1] She also played harp on Nina Simone’s album, Here Comes the Sun and she was a part of the “Cats vs. Chicks” session produced by Leonard Feather as part of a band that featured Terry Pollard, Beryl Booker, Norma Carson, Mary Osborne, Elaine Leighton, and Bonnie Wetzel.

Corky was not only an accomplished harpist but also played piano for some of the great artists of the 20th century, including Billie Holliday and Clark Terry. She’s performed and recorded with artists as diverse as Bjork, George Michael, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat “King” Cole, Roberta Flack, Frank Sinatra among others. [2] AND she also played flute and sang beautifully! Here is a gorgeous duet from Bjork’s 1993 album, Venus as a Boy:

Hale started taking piano lessons at the age of three and began studies at the Chicago Conservatory at the age of 7. In one interview she described seeing the big harps at the conservatory and throwing a fit, kicking and screaming until her parents agreed to let her play. She started learning harp at age 8. As soon as she graduated from high school, she wanted to move to Hollywood to pursue her career in music. Her parents tried to convince her to finish college first, but she was too eager to begin working in show business! [3]

Since then she has enjoyed a vibrant career as a performing and studio musician, as well as being active with Planned Parenthood and founding Angel Harvest “an organization which redistributes unused foods from restaurants, hotels, and events, to the hungry and needy people of greater Los Angeles.” [3]

Here is a playlist of her music for your listening pleasure.

Corky Hale with Billie Holiday

(Re)sources

[1] Marc Myers. Jazz Wax. (May 24, 2012. https://www.jazzwax.com/2012/05/corky-hale-the-swinging-harp.html)

[2] Corky Hale. corkyhale.com. (http://corkyhale.com/biography.php)

[3] Wikipedia contributors, “Corky Hale,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Corky_Hale&oldid=871044862 (accessed January 14, 2019).

Corky Hale on “The Tonight Show.” YouTube. (November 30, 1967. https://youtu.be/JgE0nw09Los)

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