1. What is your name and your profession(s)? My full name is Graciela Beverly Magwili Sprout, but I go by Gracie Sprout. It’s tradition on my mom’s side of the family (from the Philippines) to have Spanish names, but I don’t speak Spanish or Tagalog so it never felt right to go by my full first name. Magwili (my second middle name) is my Mother’s maiden name. I am a professional harpist and have been playing for over 20 years. I’m a teacher, recording artist, songwriter, and touring musician.
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? I’m a US native. I’m half-Filipino on my Mom’s side and half-white (English/Irish) on my Dad’s. My Mom is 1st generation American. Her parents immigrated from the Philippines in the late 40’s. My grandfather got US citizenship after serving in WWII. He and my grandmother had an arranged marriage and brought her over to the US as a GI bride to start a family and pursue the American dream.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? Neither of my parents are musicians, but they are big lovers of music. They took me to see live music a lot when I was a child and are huge supporters of my music career.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. As someone who is half-Filipino and half-white, I always had trouble with my identity. I grew up in Long Beach, CA, which is very diverse, but it always seemed like I wasn’t white enough or Asian enough to fit in. Since I was little I have been called “exotic” looking or “racially ambiguous” which seems like a compliment, but it only added to my identity crisis.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? I didn’t always feel connected to my Filipino heritage. Every first day of school I would dread the moment that the teacher would try to pronounce my name. As I’ve grown older, I have learned more about what my grandparents went through to get to the US and I am proud of my name and my heritage. The way I am able to connect to my heritage is through food and spending time with my family. I love to make adobo, lumpia, pancit, and bibingka. I’m determined to learn all of my grandmother’s recipes so I can pass them down to my children one day.
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? When I was 6 years old, I heard the harp on a CD that my dad played for me. That was the moment I decided that I wanted to be a professional harpist. My parents and I struck up a deal that I could play harp if I played piano for 2 years first. I think they were hoping I would forget about the harp. I agreed to learn piano and at the end of those 2 years I reminded my parents that I still wanted to play harp. I started harp at age 8 and never stopped.Although I had planned on pursuing harp as a career since I was 6, it wasn’t until I was auditioning for colleges that the reality of being a professional harpist really set in. When I auditioned at the University of Arizona, world renowned harpist Dr. Carrol Mclaughlin accepted me on the spot. Studying with her gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams and being a part of her 16 person harp studio gave me a community of harpist peers that I never had growing up. After graduating with my Bachelor of Music degree in Harp Performance, I went back to Long Beach for grad school to study with my first harp teacher, Ellie Choate at Cal State Long Beach. There I refined my technique, found my artistic voice, and met a lot of musicians who I still work with today.
6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? My parents have always been supportive of my music career. I think if they could come to every gig I played they would. Ultimately it’s my parents’ fault for me being a professional musician since they taught me that I could do whatever I set my mind to.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? I have been touring with Jhené Aiko since 2016 and have been able to travel all over the world and play the harp for thousands of people. The most rewarding part of being on tour as a harpist is being able to expose such a large audience to the harp. For many people that's the first time they’ve ever seen a harp in person. I recorded harp on Jhené’s albums Trip and Chilombo, which was most recently nominated for Album of the Year at this year’s Grammy awards. Jhené’s music is so beautiful, powerful, and healing. I feel so lucky that I get to be a part of it. Although I wasn’t able to go on tour this past year, I did get the opportunity to play on NPR’s Tiny Desk (home) Concert series twice! Once with Jhené Aiko and once with Gabriel Garzon-Montano. I’ve been watching NPR’s Tiny Desk series since I was in high school, so it was a huge honor to play on it twice.
Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse.
One of my favorite bands to play in is Soular System. We all met in college and are all very close friends. I get to play my small electric harp and put it through effects pedals, which is really fun. Playing with them right out of college gave me a safe space to build up my improv skills, practice playing in a band setting, and ultimately prepared me for working with bigger artists. We have some new music and virtual performances coming up https://www.instagram.com/soularsystemsound/
[Gracie didn't mention this, but she also played harp on a collaborative album I released with Anthony Green titled "Would You Still Be With Strings". I love how she plays on "Vera Lynn - Reimagined" and "A Little Death - Reimagined"].
8. Describe to me your dream project. My dream music project is actually in the works. My fiancé and I have a duo project called Resonativ that we actually started before we started dating. I sing and play harp and he produces and plays drums. We have a beat tape and an album on the way. https://www.instagram.com/resonativ/ https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCo-EyW7UkiqS3g6NiyUoRAw
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? I'm lucky to never have been discriminated against because of being an AAPI, but being somewhat white-passing has allowed me to witness other people’s prejudices against AAPIs and BIPOCs in and out of the music industry. I have always thought of myself as someone who would stand up for my fellow AAPIs and BIPOCs, but after this past year I realize I can and must do so much more.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? I am surrounded by so many talented AAPI musicians. Even before I started working with her I was inspired by Jhené Aiko’s talent and tenacity. After getting to know her I have only grown to love and respect her more. Two of Jhené’s producers and my fellow bandmates Brian Warfield and Julian Le are also AAPIs. They both are incredibly talented and so fun to play with. Any rehearsal with the four of us feels more like a family get-together than a formal rehearsal. Harpist, producer, and fellow Filipina, Low Leaf has been a big inspiration to me and a major pioneer in expanding the harp’s reach into today’s experimental and healing music. She is the reason I ended up playing with Jhené after she recommended me for the job. Anytime I feel stuck or uninspired I listen to her music.
10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? As AAPIs we need to look out for each other. Those who hate us wish to divide us. We need to stick together and lift each other up, now more than ever.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? Be proud of who you are. You don’t have to be more or less Asian to be you. Let them mispronounce your name, and then correct them. What makes you different makes you you.
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? Harp beat tape coming soon under Resonativ. https://www.instagram.com/resonativ/ New music and virtual performances coming up with Soular System https://www.instagram.com/soularsystemsound/
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. I love taking long bike rides and hanging out with my 3 year old nephew.
14. Any final thoughts? (non-self-promotional). Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? N/A
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTEQaA4qiaphGVKtpm6vdDw TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@grey__sea Jammcard: Gracie Sprout
Photos provided by Gracie Sprout