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Lee Oskar: The Artist and the Technician

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It has influence, and I know it does, because the first time I really listened to one, I bought one. I’m talking about a harmonica. I guess I owe it all to the sudden folk cry in me because very shortly after hearing Lee Koch and The Gospel Whiskey Runners create melody out of the instrument, I knew that I had to have what they were having.

I did my research and found the one that all of the “experts” were saying to get. They all said that I couldn’t go wrong with a Lee Oskar harmonica. They were right; so much so, that I felt a further need to find out who this “Lee Oskar” character was. Why did his name fit so perfectly on my harmonica? Why was I proud to show off the bold, white font of his name on my instrument to anyone who came around? It’s because Oskar truly is a technician; and I do not say that lightly.

Although Oskar is more of a dabbler in jazz and funk music, his innovation in the field of harmonica production and distribution is still impacting the music industry. At 65 years of age and with eight albums produced, his reach is almost out of sight. In ’69, Oskar helped jump start possibly his best known endeavor: the musical group War. According to his biography, his skill as a harp composer helped define the group’s sound. His skill did not come without years of experience.

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Oskar received his first harmonica at the age of six. A 1976 issue of Deseret News, a local newspaper, reported that Oskar had decided at 17 that America was the place for an aspiring harmonica player. By 18, he was playing on the streets of New York, with no money. Eventually, Oskar followed a path that would lead him to Los Angeles, where he would team up with other aspiring artists to ignite War. He told Deseret News that the group worked because everyone in it had “creative freedom.” It is certain, however, that War was Oskar’s big break as a harmonica musician – with a self-titled solo debut that followed. His later albums earned him the number one Instrumental Artist of the Year title in three different industry magazines: Billboard, Cashbox and Record World.

2013 marks 30 years for the distribution of the Lee Oskar signature harmonica; today, Oskar’s passion for the harp has taken his name all over the world. He may not be the sole inventor of the instrument, but the Lee Oskar harmonica can undoubtedly be found in the pocket of every person who considers themselves to be a committed player.

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About Elliott Scott

  • I’m really looking forward to playing the harmonica more and more. Thanks for your comment Kim!

  • Kim Hammett

    The harmonica is an awesome instrument. My brother plays and we love it when he breaks it out at family get togethers. Elliott Scott did a great job with this piece of writing. An accomplished musician and writer, he’s a good one to have on here.