Marcella DeCray

The music world has lost a great champion. Harpist Marcella DeCray died of pancreatic cancer December 2, 2011 at her San Francisco home surrounded by family. She was 83.

When Marcella was a child, her mother nurtured her talent with weekly trips from Philadelphia to New York to study with Mildred Dilling. In her late teens she went to Paris to further her studies with Henriette Renie. By 1948 she was enrolled at Juilliard but soon quit when hired by New York's Metropolitan Opera Orchestra as its only woman and youngest member.

In 1952 she auditioned for Eugene Ormandy and was hired by the Philadelphia Orchestra where she was harpist for 11 years. In 1963 she moved to San Francisco, performing for many years with the orchestras of the San Francisco Symphony and Opera. The following year she founded the harp department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and began a 45-year run as harp teacher there. She was a champion of new music, which challenged audiences to expand traditional musical horizons and performers to take on difficult parts. In 1973, she co-founded the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, one of the first ensembles of its kind in this country. And in 1980 Marcella began a 25-year tenure as principal harpist of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. During this period she also served terms as treasurer of the World Harp Congress and the American Harp Society, and president of its Bay Area chapter.

She loved to travel, and had a special fondness for Paris and Colorado, where for many summers she was principal harpist of the Aspen Music Festival and the Telluride Chamber Music Festival . She took flying lessons, even piloting a plane solo. Other adventures included skiing in France and New Zealand, riding a camel in Egypt and snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef.

Donations may be sent in her name to June Hom (415-503-6201) at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. (

A short video about her career may be seen on Youtube here.


Marcella Cray visits AHS-LA's January 2011 event. Seen here with AHS-LA president Stephanie Bennett