With each performance, stereotypical walls come tumbling down as Yonnet presents the harmonica in a refreshing and modern context. It’s stylish. It’s cool. It’s brilliant. His impressive style and electrifying stage presence have led to recordings, tours and performances with a wide range of musicians including Grammy Award winners and music icons Stevie Wonder and Prince, award-winning songwriter David Foster, UK sensation Ed Sheeran, pop-idols the Jonas Brothers, soul singers John Legend, Erykah Badu, Anthony Hamilton, John Mayer and India.Aire, as well as The National Symphony Orchestra and The Dayton Philharmonics. Rolling Stone magazine referred to Yonnet as “Prince’s killer harmonica player” and praise from other influencers affirm his mission to change the way music enthusiasts and the industry regard the “pocket” instrument.
Just listen to his sound. It funks. It rocks. It hips and hops. It grooves. It sways. It testifies. It prays. It has a reverence for gospel, blues and jazz while appealing to a generation bred on pop rock and hip-hop.
Citing Stevie Wonder as a mentor and friend, Yonnet was honored when Wonder tapped him to perform harmonica parts on the Songs in the Key of Life Performance Tour, 2014-15. Wonder performed the entire double album as part of the 43-city tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of the most critically acclaimed album of his career. On the tunes, “Have a Talk with God” and “Mama’s Call”, Yonnet demonstrates his mastery of the diatonic harmonica by expertly mimicking the chromatic melody Wonder originally performed on the studio album. “He’s so good at playing harmonica that another man good at harmonica hired him,” said Dave Chappelle during an introduction of Yonnet.
Born in Normandy, France to a Parisian father and French Guyanese Creole mother, Yonnet lived in and around Paris most of his life. As a child, he and his dad performed comedy routines in theaters throughout France and by 14, he decided to literally march to the beat of his own drum. After a short stint as a drummer, Yonnet revisited an instrument he had received as a child, the harmonica. “I got kicked out of bands because I kept trying to play the melody on the drums,” says Yonnet. “On the harmonica, I can play both the melody and the rhythm. Plus it’s lighter to carry.”
These days, the U.S.-based Yonnet travels with pedal boards, mixers, amps, microphones and more than 50 diatonic harmonicas. “I’m pretty intense on the harmonica and I like to have the ‘sharpest ax’ at all times.” To be sure, he’s not afraid to wield it. There aren’t many musicians who would go head-to-head with Wonder on the harmonica, but Yonnet has proved himself more than capable. “Frédéric Yonnet — a Wonder disciple — had a crazy harmonica duel that almost sent Stevie flying off the stage in a frenzy,” said Fox News following their performance at Madison Square Garden. Without a doubt, Yonnet’s friendship with Wonder has been his biggest musical inspiration.
At the same show in 2007, Prince first witnessed Yonnet’s expert musicianship, exhilarating panache and inexhaustible stage presence. It would be months before their paths crossed again, but when they did, Prince seized the opportunity to have Yonnet jam with him and his band at a house party. “Genius recognizes genius,” said saxophonist Mike Phillips, who performed with them that night and witnessed the energy that Yonnet brought to the band. After that, Yonnet recorded with Prince and performed with him as a featured guest on tour and during several televison appearances, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on Prince’s 20Ten European tour.
While Yonnet enjoys the excitement of performing with some of the world’s greatest music legends, he knows that it’s the technical mastery of his instrument — along with innovative collaborations and solo projects — that will earn him recognition as one of the greatest harmonica players in the world.