Elizabeth Nicholson is a Portland, Oregon-based Celtic harpist and vocalist. Known for her gutsy, dynamic approach to harp performance, she is counted among America’s foremost interpreters of traditional Celtic dance music -- a genre whose lightning-paced tempos and complex ornamentation more typically reserve it for melody instruments such as the fiddle or flute. Her harp studies have also included classical, baroque, renaissance, medieval, and Latin music, and she has stretched the traditional boundaries of the instrument into rock, old-time, and country blues. Also recognized as a vocalist who “sings beautifully...her singing is delicate and pure without being over-precious,” (David Kidman, netrhythms.uk, October 2006), Elizabeth's voice has drawn comparisons to 60s folk revivalists Sandy Denny and Judy Collins.
A life-long musician, Elizabeth grew up studying Celtic and pedal harp in Chicago under Northwestern University Conservatory professor Liz Cifani, a renowned classical player and prominent pioneer in the 70s and 80s-era renaissance of the traditional Irish harp. This early mentorship, along with a whirlwind adolescent summer spent hiking and song-collecting with friends through the west coast of Ireland, firmly affixed Celtic music (and its Anglo and American cousins) at the center of Elizabeth's artistic world. Moving to Portland in 1993, she pursued harp and vocal studies through Reed College, eventually graduating with a comparative religion major, a music minor, and (lacking the charisma to found a religious cult) exactly one marketable skill: playing the harp. She threw herself into Portland's verdant hothouse of traditional music -- learning Irish back-up guitar and entertaining brief but meaningful flirtations with a host of other traditional instruments along the way.
Elizabeth has worked as a full-time musician in the Portland area since 1998 and has performed in broad-ranging array of settings: She has appeared in many folk festivals, sharing stages with some truly great artists, including collaborating with legendary fiddler Kevin Burke and opening for the popular Irish band Gaelic Storm. Under her own name she has toured domestically and internationally, ranging as far afield as Europe and New Zealand. Her broadcast experience includes live appearances on nationally syndicated radio and many performances on regional radio and television. She has played for countless weddings, funerals, and other private functions; as well as house concerts, pubs, ceili and contra dances, and stage productions. She has held harpist-in-residence positions at the Benson hotel (playing classical harp) and The Oregon Renaissance Faire (wearing elf ears!), and performs regularly at a number of local Irish and Scottish pubs. Less traditional performances include giving interactive Celtic harp workshops at public schools and senior centers, playing therapeutic music for hospice and acupuncture patients, and playing lead (metallic blue) electric harp in a heavy metal band.
A prolific recording artist, Elizabeth currently has a number of CD releases to her credit on the BarBarrick and Waterbug folk labels. Her work has received widespread critical praise and international airplay: her 2008 album "Fly Not Yet" (with band "Stringed Migration") opened at number 11 on international radio charts and received rave reviews from every major international folk music magazine. Her 2006 release "Sink or Swim" was awarded “Folk Album of the Month” on Iowa Public Radio, as well as a highly favorable reception from critics nationwide. Her work has been highlighted on Rich Warren’s iconic folk program “The Midnight Special,” and has been featured on Fiona Richie’s “Thistle and Shamrock" and "Thistlepod" programs in shows devoted to outstanding Celtic releases. Elizabeth's "Celtic Wedding Music" series of recordings with "The Rose and Thistle Band" has been a consistent top seller at cdbaby.com, and has graced numerous wedding ceremonies worldwide.
Elizabeth is currently available for solo and ensemble performances throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to performing, she teaches folk harp out of her home in inner NE Portland, and remotely via Zoom and other platforms. When she is not playing or teaching music, she can generally be found trying to mind-meld with horses, fretting about politics with her partner JC, or sitting very still beneath a couple of extremely entitled tuxedo cats.