The queen of break-beat harp-jazz, Dorothy Ashby grew up in Detroit. Her father was a jazz guitarist and she went to high school with Donald Byrd and Kenny Burrell. After college she gigged around as a pianist in the early '50s while also dedicating time to mastering the harp.
By the mid-'50s she was playing bop as a harpist and recorded several albums for Prestige, Atlantic and the Chess family of labels from the late '50s into the '70s. Her classic 1970 album The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby featured her on the Japanese koto.
Her tunes have been sampled by hiphop and dance artists (Pete Rock, Wu Tang Clan, Flying Lotus). In her jazz career she played with Louie Armstrong, Woody Herman, Richard Davis, Shirley Scott and Stanley Turrentine, just for starters. Her and her drummer husband John Ashby also ran a theater company for many years, The Ashby Players. In the late '60s the Ashbys moved to Los Angeles, where she found lots of session work (Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Bill Withers, Bobbi Humphrey, etc).