Leela Grace

Instructor of Banjo

Evans Music Center, MSC: 018
Leela Grace is a nationally-known clawhammer banjo player, singer, songwriter, recording artist, percussive dancer and teacher of music and dance originally from Columbia, Missouri. She has performed and taught nationally for over 35 years, starting out as child in her family’s band as they toured North America. Since 1998, she has performed and recorded in a duo with her sister Ellie Grace (as Leela and Ellie Grace), as a solo artist, and as a collaborator in several bands and dance companies, receiving recognition and accolades across the country. In 2007, she moved to Portland, Oregon and has since built a tremendous following on the west coast, performing across the region and teaching popular banjo, by-ear harmony singing, and Appalachian clogging classes. In 2018, she opened her own school of music and dance in Portland called Rose City Folk School. She also directs two vocal ensembles, ResistSing! and Rose City Folk Chorus.

Leela has over 25 years of experience as a clawhammer banjo player and teacher. She is recognized as one of the top old time banjo players in the country and is known for her exceptional clawhammer banjo style, marked by clear, bright melodies and powerful rhythm. She has been invited to teach banjo at prestigious music camps, institutions, and festivals across North America and is a sought-after collaborator and studio musician. As a banjo teacher, her students have called her a “dynamic, engaging, and knowledgeable instructor” and “a skilled musician” who “has a wonderful ear, and a superb way of motivating you to develop your skill.” Through lessons, group classes, and workshops, she has shepherded hundreds of students from their very first tentative strums to playing complex tunes and songs for enjoyment or even playing professionally. As a white banjo player and teacher, Leela endeavors to continually educate herself and her students about the complex history of the banjo, an African American instrument that has been essentially “re-branded” as a symbol of southern culture and even white supremacy. It is especially important at this time that we continue to move the tradition forward from harmful and ignorant narratives and repertoire towards diverse representation and the acknowledgement of true history.

Leela also has extensive experience as a singer, songwriter, voice coach, and by-ear harmony singing teacher. Her original songs have been adapted for vocal ensembles, featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered, chosen for inclusion on a “Best of Portland Acoustic Music” compilation, and used for film soundtracks and special events for national and local advocacy groups and social justice organizations. She continues to be a sought-after singer, arranger, and performer as a solo artist, collaborator, special guest, and studio musician.

In the midst of a global pandemic, a world literally and figuratively on fire, and a seemingly endless array of injustices mounting, Leela is raising young children and seeking small, imperfect ways to make a difference. She hopes to use her music and her teaching to uplift her fellow humans, fight for the most vulnerable, and bring her intersecting and often far-flung communities together in harmony. To every lesson, every performance, and every class, she brings a wealth of experience, a seemingly infinite enthusiasm for sharing the joy of music, and a deep commitment to making music accessible to all.