Artist Profiles: Derek Bell

Derek Bell with The Chieftains

A native of Belfast (born October 21, 1935), Derek Bell was The Chieftains’ virtuoso harpist who originally performed with the Belfast Symphony Orchestra. He also played piano, oboe and tiompán (a stringed instrument with 120-130 strings dating from fourth-century Ireland, similar to a hammered dulcimer). Bell first played with The Chieftains in 1972 as a regular guest and joined the band as a full-fledged member in 1974. His first recording with the band was The Chieftains 4 (1974).

A child prodigy, Bell started his musical career on piano at the age of nine and he composed his first concerto at 11. He became a regular on the BBC radio program Children’s Hour, often composing new material for the show. He later earned a scholarship to study composition at London’s Royal College of Music and then studied piano in Colorado. He went on to be a soloist appearing with symphony orchestras in Berlin, Moscow, Budapest, Dublin and London.

While he studied harp in Salzburg, Austria, he did not begin playing it seriously until he was 30 and managing the Belfast Symphony Orchestra. Prior to his Chieftains tenure, he recorded five solo albums, four on harp and one on piano.

Derek Bell died on October 17, 2002 in Phoenix, Arizona.


Carolan’s Receipt (1975)
Carolan’s Favourite (Shanachie, 1980)
Derek Bell Plays With Himself (1981)
Musical Ireland (1982)
Ancient Music for the Irish Harp (1989)
Mystic Harp (1996)
A Celtic Evening with Derek Bell (1997)
Mystic Harp II (1999)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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