WATCH: Harmonica player Frédéric Yonnet on collaborating with Martin Scorsese, Prince and others

Originally from France, harmonicist Frédéric Yonnet moved to D.C. approximately 20 years ago and has since taken the national musical scene by storm.

His music is heard in films such as Bradley Cooper’s 2018 remake of “A Star is Born” and two of Martin Scorsese’s movies — “The Irishman” and “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

In “The Irishman,” Yonnet was tasked with making a sound that represented the Grim Reaper, while he captured the sound of greed in the latter film.

If his name is unfamiliar, his sound isn’t.

His expert harmonica playing has been heard around the world in recordings, tours and performances with musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Prince, Ed Sheeran, The Jonas Brothers, John Legend and Erykah Badu, among others. He’s also been seen in one of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts alongside comedian Dave Chappelle.

He told WTOP that he finds the harmonica to be a “magical” instrument that is his personal “pocket friend” or “pocket pal.”

During the pandemic lockdown, he used his home as a space for performances with his band, separating each person with long strips of plastic and leaving the windows open so that he could serenade the surrounding neighborhood with the sounds of him pushing the envelope with his harmonica.

“It became a little more than just that,” Yonnet said. “What was supposed to be a place where we could just rehearse and practice and be experimental, it turned out to be a place where the neighborhood started gathering, and it brought people together.”

Slowly but surely, these musical sessions grew, in part because they were shared online by people such as comedian Amy Schumer and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

What’s on the horizon for Yonnet is a new retrospective album that will put the harmonica in the context of a live band. He will also be performing live at the Carlyle Room in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2.

Michelle Goldchain

Michelle Goldchain’s reporting has focused primarily on the D.C. area, previously working as Editor of Curbed DC for Vox Media and Audience Growth & Engagement Editor for Washington City Paper. She is the author of "D.C. by Metro: A History & Guide.” She also reports for Artsplained on YouTube.

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