€This is What I was Put on Earth to Do€

Larry Saxton | 9/2/2009, 8:27 p.m.

Rashida Jolley, a native Washingtonian and multi-talented musician who resides in Northwest, dons many hats as an accomplished harpist, songwriter, vocalist and motivational speaker. She is a graduate of Nyack College in Nyack, N.Y., where she majored in history and music. Jolley, 29, was crowned Miss District of Columbia in 2000 and represented the District in the Miss America Pageant in 2001.

She lectures and performs nationally and internationally before teenagers and she holds the coveted title of being the youngest person appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Jolley is also the recipient of the Tomorrow€s Leader Award, the Impact Award and numerous others for her commitment to community service.

She was a contestant on the NBC television program €America€s Got Talent,€ and progressed to the final round of the show before being eliminated. She hails from a musical and motivated family: Her father, the late Noble Jolley, Sr. was a preacher and jazz guitarist. Her uncle, Willie Jolley, is a well-known motivational speaker and author. And, her brothers, Nathan and Noble Jolley, Jr., are both jazz musicians who produce the majority of her music.

WI: How did you get started playing the harp?
RJ: When I was 10-years-old, my mom said she had a vision that God told her that I was supposed to play the harp. I said to my mom, I don€t know what a harp is and God didn€t tell me. She said, that didn€t matter because I€m your mother, and you are going to take harp lessons. I started taking harp lessons at the D.C. Youth Orchestra and eventually fell in love with the instrument.

WI: How do you plan to become a renowned harpist in the R&B genre?
RJ: I had always kept my singing and playing the harp separate, but my parents encouraged me to combine the two. I had a problem with combining them because my background in vocals is soul music, and my background in the harp is classical music, and they are totally opposite. One day I happened to be watching Oprah [Winfrey] and R&B singer Alicia Keys was on the show. She was a classically trained musician who belted out soul stirring ballads. She was combining two genres and selling it to a younger audience who may have never listened to classical music. I thought, wow, I can do this. I learned Stevie Wonder€s song €If It€s Magic,€ and that was the first R&B song I learned to play on the harp.

WI: What inspires you when you write music?
RJ: God always inspires me because he provided the gift that€s inside of me and also what€s in my heart. My father is my biggest inspiration. Unfortunately, he passed away six years ago. My dad sacrificed everything for his family and gave us all of his gifts and talents. When I get behind [the harp] to play, just hearing him and knowing the spirit behind why I [have] the opportunity to play--it€s because of him. Although, the public has no idea, a lot of the material that I have written is about my dad.

What do you hope to achieve in your career?
RJ: I want all the trappings that come with being a successful musician: the recording deals, the platinum records and the Grammies. But, the one thing I want to be most remembered for is that I played the harp, an instrument that is typically thought of as being ancient, and brought it into mainstream music -- soul music; that I transformed the harp into an instrument that inspired young people to do something with their talent that might be viewed differently. If I can accomplish that and have it associated with my name, that would make me feel that my life has been fulfilled.

For more information on Rashida Jolley visit www.rashidajolley.com.