We recently wrote about the incredible artist, Lee Oskar, who with his chosen instrument of harmonica has played alongside the likes of Kesha, Pitbull, and many others, and is an internationally recognised virtuoso of the craft. He also has had his own company, Lee Oskar Harmonica, since 1983, where he produces and sells harmonicas suited to many different styles of music, including the most common blues, folk, rock, R&B and country. Lee’s altered tunings also allow players of his harmonicas to explore genres such as Tango, Clave, Hip Hop, Reggae, Ska, Latin, Gypsy, Yiddish, Eastern European, Asian, and much more.
Lee Oskar’s influence is wide-ranging, and his talent is phenomenal; of course we took our opportunity to speak to him when it arose.
You moved to New York from Denmark as a young man. What was it that motivated to make that journey?
As a young man, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by coming to the USA, which was larger than life to me. It was in my DNA to pursue my dreams as an artist, and coming to America represented my best shot at landing a record deal.
Harmonica is your chosen instrument. How did it come about that you started playing it? What age were you? Do you play any other instruments?
I started playing the harmonica when I was six years old, when I received it as a gift from an American family friend who came to visit. It was love at first sound. I was so excited when I immediately discovered that all I had to do was breathe into this magical instrument and it played me, I did not play it! It sounded so amazing, like there was a whole orchestra playing with me. Thanks to the harmonica, I began composing music in my mind all the time. I would sleep with my harmonica, I loved it so much.
I only play the harmonica, it’s all I can ask for in an instrument! I am so thankful for the harmonica as it allows me to explore, experience and express my thoughts and feelings musically. I would have been considered “musically hopeless” without it. There are so many people out there who, like me, love and hear music so deeply, but cannot necessarily physically channel it through different instruments. The harmonica is a perfect instrument for artistic expression!
You’ve worked with a ton of different artists in your music career, what has been your fondest memory, and do you have a favorite artist you’ve enjoyed working with most of all?
I’ve been so fortunate throughout my musical career to have worked with so many outstanding talents. I loved playing music with my colleagues in the original band, WAR. We had incredible chemistry which allowed me to grow as an artist and become better and better. I have that same of kind of synergy with my own band now, Lee Oskar & Friends—when I conduct and play with them, we’re completely in the moment, in the creative process, together, influencing each other in real time.
One of my fondest memories happened a few years ago when I was invited to be a guest coach at the Billy Cobham Art of the Rhythm Section Retreat. I’ve always respected Billy as one of the most innovative and sophisticated drummers in the world. So I was quite honored when he asked me to join him, and really flattered that he embraced what I represent as an artist, which is more about the feelings and emotions than the academics, and being connected in the moment, in the pocket and in the groove, which are all so important to me musically and personally. It was an amazing experience!
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to get into the music business?
Take responsibility to protect your lifestyle and take care of yourself as a true artist. If you want to dedicate your life to making music, then you must live for that fully, you must take responsibility for the business side as well as the creative side. Be honest, understand the basics, learn about what you need to know, don’t sign anything unless you fully understand what you’re agreeing to. From trademarks to royalties, copyrights, marketing, intellectual property, etc., you’ve got to understand, and know what you’re doing. Surround yourself with trusted people who can help you navigate the system. Remember, you only earn what you know how to claim, so learn all about it!
Tell us about your new album!
My newest album, She Said Mahalo, was just released on September 15, 2023, and through this project I wanted to impart positive, uplifting feelings—conveying love, happiness, gratitude, appreciation, hopefulness, and passion for life. This album followed the release of my musical memoir, Never Forget, which is a very deeply personal collection, that was inspired by my memories, feelings and family stories related to the Holocaust as well as other atrocities against mankind. After this cathartic experience, I felt ready for a happier, more sentimental and endearing musical expression. The truth is, I am always composing music and as material marinates in my mind, I am creating a vibe, then embellishments and the project starts to take shape. In retrospect, it worked well for me to first share Never Forget with the world and then offer She Said Mahalo, as my next artistic statement of gratitude with a hopeful tone.
What’s next for Lee Oskar? What can fans expect?
I can’t tell you right now what to expect, just stay tuned! What inspires me are the things I have not done yet, and I never know what that will be until I am doing it. I am always creating music and paintings in my head, so the next thing will come once I decide and then you’ll hear about it!
What question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview, but nobody ever does? And what’s the answer to that question?
I wish someone would ask me if I mind if people give me their comments after they listen to my music. I would tell them, that to me, the ultimate in composing and creating music is being heard—being recognized and acknowledged as having something to say, a statement that sparks feelings and thoughts and contributes to someone’s life. I love it when people share their opinions and let me know what they’re getting out of my music.
Watch the music video for Lee Oskar’s latest single, ‘Funky Rhetoric’ below, and find out more about the man and his music online on his official website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.