BY PAMELA KEECH
Bloomington continues to surprise. In an unremarkable building behind Mother Bear’s Pizza, a very famous harp player and her ex-husband operate an international harp business. Eleanor Fell is legendary for pioneering popular music on the harp. Lee Caulfield was an international sales manager for General Electric. Vanderbilt Music Company began in their apartment at 34th and Park Avenue in New York City—the old Vanderbilt Hotel.
“We started the company in 1976 because there was a shortage of good gut strings,” says Caulfield. “Most strings on a large harp are natural gut, made from sheep or beef intestines, and were not then available in the U.S. so we imported them from England.”
The business here sells harps, music, CDs, and accessories. Fell specializes in choosing harps for foreign clients. Publishing is another facet; they currently own over 500 proprietary arrangements for the harp.
Fell grew up in Bloomington and began studying harp when she was 5 because her grandfather was taken by the biblical story of King David. She attended University High School and IU. “I went from nursery school though twelfth grade and then right out the back door to college, all right at Third and Jordan,” she says.
After graduation Fell played classical music for a while. “Then I decided to go into pop music and I ended up in Africa playing the harp in Abidjan, on the Côte d’Ivoire.” There she met Caulfield.
They moved to New York in the mid-70s and Fell was soon performing at the famous Rainbow Room, then at the St. Regis Hotel, playing for people like Jacqueline Onassis and Salvador Dali, whose studio was on the second floor of the hotel. Caulfield remembers, “Dali came down every night with his gold encrusted cane, would walk up to Eleanor, bang the cane, and demand she play ‘Malagueña.’”
Fell retired from performing in 1984; they opened the Bloomington store the next year. When last seen they were awaiting delivery of a $60,000 harp for the Royal Air Force Orchestra of Thailand.
Vanderbilt Music is at 312-A South Swain Ave., 333-5255. Their catalog is online.