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Bill  Harley

Bill Harley

Two-Time Grammy Winner, Storyteller, Author & Family Entertainer

Bill Harley

Two-Time Grammy Winner, Storyteller, Author & Family Entertainer


APB Exclusive Speaker

Storytellers were our first magicians, our first history keepers, society builders, culture shapers and spiritual and emotional filters, making sense of the world long before written communication. For all our sophisticated technology and mass electronic entertainment, we still need those voices in the dark, by the fire, in the hall. A master storyteller connects us and intimately affirms our lives with resonant truths, no matter how embroidered, funny, mysterious or horrific the tale. Bill Harley, a two-time Grammy Award winner and multiple Grammy nominee, is a master storyteller.

The nationally touring, critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter, author, musician and monologist Harley is considered by fans and peers alike to be one of the best storytellers in the country for his celebrations of commonality and humanity through comic narrative songs and confessional spoken works. Harley began his work with children while still in college and released his first album, “Monsters in the Bathroom,” on Round River Records, the label he co-founded in 1984. Twenty-eight albums later, Harley’s work includes song and story collections for adults, and a diverse mix of world music, reggae, blues, folk, rock, jazz, do-wop and more. In recent years, Harley has authored eight children’s picture books and two novels for gradeschoolers.

Entertainment Weekly labeled Harley, “the Mark Twain of contemporary children’s music.” In addition, Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of New York’s high-profile Public Theater, said Harley, “has an instinctive thing that artists have, a unique individuality that transcends any particular box or genre he performs in.”

But tagging Harley with the “children’s artist” label, even of the top-drawer variety, is as deceptive as this gifted artist’s Puckish demeanor. In slice-of-life vignettes about school and family life, Harley uses humor and a fine-tuned sense of the ridiculous to illuminate compassionate truths, even while inspiring belly laughs.

As a folk musician in the Seeger, Woody Guthrie tradition, Harley lends his voice to social justice, environmental and political causes. Whatever his forum, it’s always all about story, community and connection. Adults absorb a Harley performance through a double filter of past and present. Children respond from the immediacy of their own lives, as with rubber-faced abandon he examines human foibles, flaws and embarrassments, common fears and simple pleasures. Through his work, Harley appeals to our better angels, reminding us that we’re human, making us laugh and sometimes making us cry, one story and one song at a time.

Speaker Videos

TEDTalk: Stories Out Loud

Wash Your Hands Music Video

Speech Topics

Story is the Best Teacher

A teacher is someone who gives stories to others so they can make their own. Regardless of the subject or audience, story is central to how people make sense of the world and build a community with others. In this talk, master storyteller, Bill Harley, will look at how stories work in people's lives, what stories define their own lives, and how to use story in an educational setting.  Inspiring, entertaining, affirming and moving, educators will leave with a deeper understanding of their work.

How to Think Like a Kid

Are adults and children the same species? Sometimes it seems they have nothing in common, but with a little effort, adults can find a way to reach kids just where they are. In this talk, master storyteller Bill Harley will share the philosophical underpinnings of his work with children, which involves affirming their emotional lives. He will use some of his stories, songs and books as a jumping off point. Appropriate for writers, parents, teachers or librarians - anyone who wants to find a creative way to connect with children - reaching them on their level - directly and with compassion.

Storytelling for Work & Play

Stories are at the heart of being human. We all need stories, we all use stories. Educators of all stripes, clergy, social workers, business leaders, doctors, lawyers and entertainers use this ancient art form to inspire, motivate and educate. While much advice about the importance of narrative comes from psychologists and communication consultants, Bill Harley is a master storyteller. With over thirty years of sharing his stories on stages around the world, Bill offers insights into the nature of story and its ability to transform. Whether you’re in the classroom, the courtroom, the boardroom or when you're pulled over by a friendly neighborhood constable, it’s the story that people will remember long after the moment has passed.

You’re Driving Me Crazy: A Concert for Families

Intergenerational entertainment at its best, Bill Harley’s songs and stories paint a vibrant and hilarious picture of growing up, schooling and family life. Family Fun Magazine calls Bill “the finest, funniest children’s songwriter around.” Masterful storytelling and comic narrative songs will have listeners young and old laughing out loud. With slice-of-life vignettes about big trouble and simple pleasures, Bill’s rubber-faced abandon and keen memory will delight the entire family.


Bears & Beanstalks: The Orchestra Tells a Story

Bill Harley brings his consummate skills as a storyteller and musician to the concert stage with a show for all ages – a performance that introduces the orchestral world to young people while happily entertaining the older ones who brought them. Joining forces with award-winning composer and arranger Paul Phillips, Bill has a full fifty minutes of his original work arranged for orchestras. The program includes two of his most popular songs There’s a Pea On My Plate and You’re in Trouble, a new setting of the traditional folktale Jack and the Beanstalk, which draws on traditional American music and, a hilarious and moving arrangement of one of Bill’s most popular stories, Come On Out and Play – the story of a bear whose belief in what is possible makes for a very magical night.

In addition, Bill offers a primer in orchestral music in his piece What’s Music Made Of?, which takes a close look at the last movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1. The exploration of this classic of orchestral music is educational, interactive and very entertaining.

In working with an orchestra, Bill draws on his long experience of working with all genres of music and especially his experience as host for the Rhode Island Philharmonic Family Series.