—by Dr. Cathy Clayton, student of Dr. McLaughlin, and Kelly Marie Harris, daughter of Carrol McLaughlin
In Dr. Carrol McLaughlin’s family, there was a tradition that everyone was to choose an instrument at the age of 4, and she chose the harp. Carrol grew up in northern Alberta, Canada in a small town called Grande Prairie. A harp was difficult to find so she instead chose her father’s instrument, the tenor saxophone. She began playing in her dad’s jazz band when she was just 5 years old. Then a year later, she saw a giraffe puppet playing a harp on a Canadian kid’s TV show called The Friendly Giant. John Duncan was the harpist playing the music for the giraffe in the show. Her father immediately contacted Mr. Duncan who agreed to sell the old Wurlitzer pedal harp that he was using for the show to her father. Finding a teacher was also a challenge. Her father owned the “Halfway Hotel,” “Halfway” because as her father used to say, “You are either half-way there or half-way back.” He ordered a harp instruction book by Larivière but it was written in French. As her family didn’t speak French, her father would let anyone have a free night in the hotel if they could translate a page from the book. This was her first instruction on the harp. By age 8, Carrol did find a teacher, but she was eight hours away. Carrol would get on a bus and ride all day to her teacher’s house, which happened to be near Carrol’s grandparents’ home. Her grandparents would meet her at the bus station, take her to her harp lesson, and then return her to the bus the next day for the ride home.
Carrol’s dedication and love of the harp led her to become the principal harpist for the Calgary Symphony by age 14. While attending Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, she competed in an instrumental scholarship competition and took top prize, winning a scholarship to the University of Michigan. Carrol continued on to Juilliard for her MM, and then to the University of Arizona, where she obtained her DMA, both under Susann McDonald. During a year performing in London, she also had the opportunity to study extensively with Russian harpist Maria Korchinska.
Throughout her celebrated career, Dr. McLaughlin performed solo concerts in countries around the world. She also toured with Bill Marx, son of Harpo Marx, for Columbia Artists Management, where she dressed as Harpo and performed his music and Vaudeville sketches on stage. In addition, she performed for the Jerry Lewis Telethon every year for almost a decade. Dr. McLaughlin served on the board of the World Harp Congress for many years and frequently adjudicated for national and international harp competitions.
As the Professor of Harp at the University of Arizona, where she taught for over 30 years, Dr. McLaughlin established HarpFusion, the world’s largest touring harp ensemble at that time. She took her students on many international tours to countries such as Japan, Switzerland, Korea, Spain, Brazil, Lichtenstein, China, and Holland. All of the wonderful music that HarpFusion performed was arranged by Dr. McLaughlin or students in the group. HarpFusion was known for playing everything from pop and jazz to classical and Celtic music, and even original compositions. Dr. McLaughlin encouraged her students to always be at their utmost professional on stage and off and, most of all, to believe that they could achieve any goal that they set for themselves. She was a beloved teacher, and all those who knew her will never forget what they learned from her or the marvelous experiences that they had with her. She will be deeply missed by all.
Carrol McLaughlin died from cancer on March 10, 2018, at her home in Tucson. Read her obituary from the Arizona Daily Star.