The harmonica is a very versatile tool.
It’s easy to play and its players find it easy to carry wherever they go.
Its broad display tones are also fascinating.
And it’s all these attributes that have made it a darling to many.
But most importantly, it is the role played by the world’s best-known harmonists in the fast evolution of this little beautiful instrument.
We compiled a list of the 10 best harmonica players of all time you should know;
1. Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder whose birth name is Stevland Hardaway Morris is an American harmonica player, who tends to focus more on chromatic.
He uses his music to depict the minimalistic style, which even so, comes out intensely soulful, thanks to his magic capability to reach through to the valved bends, though partially.
In some of his famous records, such as the “Boogies on reggae woman”, you can clearly tell that he’s using the diatonic harmonica, which comes out impressively.
His signature tune, the “crying bends”, come out beautifully especially in the “Have a talk with god” song.
It’s how he passionately plays his harmonica that has won him the hearts of many harmonica music lovers, including myself.
2. Little Walter
If you’re a fan of blues and jazz harmonica, then you must know Little Walter, well, not physically, but at least musically!
He still stands out at the Godfather of blues and it’s because of him that the blues harmonica industry receives as much following as it does today.
Imagine playing from an unamplified background and still being able to capture the attention of many people!
He played the harmonica so beautifully on his own, just as he did alongside other amplified instruments.
Also, his great songwriting skills remain admirable. He’s truly inventive and every time he performed, he soaked everyone with his unique sound.
He’s undoubtedly the premier harp player of all time.
In his songs, he made sure that every time they’re played, the listeners get a feel his melody from different layers and angles.
Little Walter still lives through his music.
3. Toots Thielemans
Toots Thielemans is a renowned Belgian-American best jazz harmonica player of all time.
He is widely remembered for his beautifully played chromatic harmonica tunes, which left his audiences in awe.
Most individuals remember how he blended so well with the Benny Goodman band to give the most incredible performances.
When you “walk” into harmonica’s jazz circles, you’re likely to be welcomed by one of Toots’ sounds, maybe the signature Bluesette, which he released in 1961! That’s how famous and loved he remains.
Today, the history of a harmonica cannot be mentioned without remembrance of this great instrument legend.
Toot’s music can take you through a 1000 miles’ drive, and you will still want to play more!
4. James Cotton
Like Little Walter, James cotton still lives through his music. He’s among the most famous blues harmonica players to have ever graced the music scene.
His rise to fame was paramount in the 1980s when he released a series of albums under the renowned Alligator records.
His massive usage of the harmonica instrument during his public performances helped to make it famous, which significantly impacted its evolution, even today.
Many uprising harmonic players still look up to him and use his music to com-up with their tantalizing inventions.
5. Paul Butterfield
When describing how good Paul Butterfield is at harmonica, even extraordinary becomes an understatement!
His music is filled with magic. From the way he plays the harp backward and then upside down, to his captivating full and rich sound, his runs can’t be compared to any other harmonica player.
Through his music, he told “superhuman” stories, which lead to the revolutionary harmonica playing scenes the world is witnessing presently.
His melodies are the perfect outcome of the great combination of Little Walter’s vocabulary and his exemplary harmonica playing intensity.
Paul Butterfield dared to be original and we celebrate him.
He plays with such amazing concentration and the tunes come out so smooth like silk. They will definitely blow your mind, each time
When he plays, you simply have to listen!
6. Carlos del Junco
This phenomenon harmonica player is known for his signature smooth sound, which a real definition of soul food.
He made playing harmonica seem so simple and playful with the way he made flowing bends, with a rich fuller tone that was strategically amplified.
His eventful nature is evident from the numerous covers he did, that could easily pass on as his original work.
Carlos del Junco had a unique capability of playing solo tunes with a witty touch that leave audiences craving for more.
If we could use a word to describe him on stage, we say “magnificent!”
7. John Popper
John Popper’s performances are electrifying. And as you watch him play the harmonica playfully and with ease, it’s inevitable to flow with the tune.
He normally likes his plays fast, thus artists look up to him when learning to play the upper licks of the harmonica.
And even with his preference for diatonic harmonica, he goes as far as playing the 64th and 32n notes, with the ease of an artist.
John Popper ‘s ability to smoothly move from upper to lower and vice versa is something that his audiences never seemed to get enough of.
And it will definitely flow to the future generations as legends live forever!
8. Greg Zlap
Greg Zlap is famously known for his incredible harmonica playing skills mainly in Europe and France.
He comfortably handles his instrument and can undoubtedly deliver great melodies in most genres.
His music is the true definition of classic and contemporary, which makes him famous among both the young and older audiences.
And for blues, he does them great justice!
Amazed? Hold on a little bit as there’s still something you need to know;
He also composes, produces and performs his music!
I mean how cool is that? His music is a mirror reflection of his life, phenomenon!
9. Howard Levy
Howard Levy is a true definition of “jack-of-all-trades”, of course when it comes to playing harmonica music.
He’s fiercely versatile and his playing style can’t be anything but refreshing, for lack of a better word.
His fascinating fusion style is characterized by a great combination of classic rock, country music, Latin gunk, jazz fusion, funk, blues, and contemporary music.
And this has made is famous as one of the world’s best all-round harmonica player.
But, don’t you go confusing his style with lack of talent, because he truly is, otherwise he wouldn’t even be in this list.
Remember, some people are literally good at everything, and for Howard Levy, he seems to love and understand all kinds of music. And that’s okay.
After all, it’s the cool music that matters, right?
Here, listen, watch and get a glimpse of what I am talking about;
10. Jason Ricci
We close this list with America’s finest harmonica player; Jason Ricci.
He found how way to fame through his unique energetic harmonica playing style that’s embraced by many.
And because of this, he is well accepted among blues harmonica lovers, who look-up him to perfectly represent the millennium generation.
So, expect to see a lot of modernism in his performances. And this, combined with his level of creativity, attracts huge crowds to his concerts.
The 44-year-old is clearly playing his role in making the harmonica instrument famous to the current and future generations, which will be remembered in the future.
And as his fans famously say” you cannot earn passion, but only feel it through his music!”
Conclusion: This List is Biased, of course.
The above list isn’t exhaustive, there are many great harmonica players that the world will live to remember. We salute them all.
The above are just examples of the best harmonica players that have greatly impacted the evolution of his amazing musical instrument.
We shared a video of each one of them performing, and there are so many more of those on YouTube, so it’s up to you to take time and listen in.
You might learn a thing or two that you can apply to your career.
But whatever it takes, work hard on getting better.
Which harmonica artist can you add on the list? Share in the comment section.
Take lessons if you must, the world needs to rank you as one of the greatest of your time! And your time is now!