To tens of thousands of prison inmates across the nation, she is “The Harp Lady,” who charms and amazes audiences with her blue 47-string acoustic/electric harp and the heavenly music it echoes in concerts from San Quentin to Florida.
She is Linda Rice, whose musical specialty is weaving several songs into one amazing explosion of notes and tunes and rhythms.
“If you listen closely you will hear Turkey In The Straw on Go, Tell It On The Mountain, Shortnin’ Bread on Revive Us Again and Ravel’s Bolero running parallel to Silent Night. I enjoy taking familiar gospel hymns and giving them new rhythms and new life,” Rice explains.
“I’m always experimenting with the harp. I love to weave things in the strings of my harp. I have various shoestrings, parachute cords, ribbons, piping, waxed paper, luncheon napkins and paint chips in my brief case. Audiences are always amazed at the different sounds these household items can make. A simple hair ribbon can imitate the sound of the lute stop on a harpsichord. I use it when I play, Jesus, Joy Of Man’s Desiring. I especially like Sweet Hour Of Prayer (based on the chords of Basin Street Blues), His Eye Is On The Sparrow, and Higher Ground.”
THE BLUE HARP
Other favorites include Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin with Jacob’s Ladder, and Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze with Wayfaring Stranger. Sometimes she even weaves four or five tunes into one selection.
She weaves her Christian testimony into her performances, which have covered 25 states, sprinkling her talk with humor. As for her attire, “I always try to look inconspicuous by wearing a blue sequined jacket to match my blue harp.”
This year she performed in 70 prisons in nine states: California, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. She appeared at two S. Q. concerts on June 28.
She has also performed in churches and state prisons in Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Washington state.
Concerts have also been performed in federal penitentiaries in Florence, Colo., Leavenworth, Kan., Terre Haute, Ind., Coleman, Fla, Pollock, La., Tucson, Ariz., and Atwater, Calif.
She also provided harp music for a White House Christmas open house in 2007 and piano music for another Yule event in the White House last December.
is a calling’
Accompanying Linda on her travels is her husband of 42 years, Willis, a retired Air Force pilot who sets up the sound system.“This harp ministry is a ‘calling’ on our lives,” she explained. “After Willis retired from the Air Force, we both felt that God was calling us into a full-time harp ministry. That was 1992. We still have our motto ‘You call, we haul.’ We travel everywhere in a big van, and play 70 concerts a year in prisons.”
The van has logged 346,000 miles around the country.
Willis gives his testimony at the end of each concert. He then invites anyone who wants to become a Christian to raise a hand. Hundreds of inmates have done just that. The Rices do not receive any money from any state or federal prison. Referring to an appearance at Forest Park United Methodist Church, Panama City, Florida, Dr. John Friedman wrote, “She plays with her hands, but what you really hear is her heart.”