Hannah Welton: Powering Prince’s 3rd Eye Girl
by Fred W. Gretsch
Watching Gretsch drummer Hannah (Ford) Welton perform as the backbone of Prince’s 3RDEYEGIRL (the legendary artist’s explosive four-piece rock band), you’d likely get the impression that Hannah is a dynamic and talented young rock drummer. And you’d be partly right.
The fact is, Hannah is a multi-faceted performer who’s been a significant figure on the drumming scene for quite a while now. She came to the attention of the drumming community in her early teens, largely as the result of innate talent combined with a lot of hard work and study.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Hannah was immersed in the performing arts from a young age, gravitating toward the drums by age seven. At the age of twelve she moved to Chicago, where she studied and performed with legends and mentors such as Peter Erskine, Danny Seraphine, Johnny Rabb, Paul Wertico, and Gretsch artist Stanton Moore. At the same time she launched her professional career, playing in a blues band with her trumpet-playing father.
After a childhood focused on classic rock influenced by the powerful sound of John Bonham and Led Zeppelin, Hannah expanded her scope through study at the Chicago College of Performing Arts. There she played in the school’s Latin Ensemble and Big Band Orchestra, and also studied in the Vocal Jazz Department. In addition, she had the opportunity to play with top touring musicians, including Wynton Marsalis, Butch Miles, and Jeff Berlin.
It wasn’t long before Hannah had established her own rock trio—The Hannah Ford Band—in Chicago. She also performed and recorded with a Milwaukee-based crossover Christian band called Bellevue Suite. From 2006 through 2011 Hannah received a variety of accolades and awards, while making a name as a clinician at events like the Chicago Drum Show. Capitalizing on her arts background, she landed the role of L. A. Coulter, the on-stage drummer in the 2011 Chicago Royal George Theatre run of the Whoopi Goldberg-produced musical White Noise.
Hannah was on a Guitar Center clinic tour when she heard from Prince’s representatives that he had seen her videos on YouTube and wanted her to come to Paisley Park Studios to jam. After joining Prince’s New Power Generation band in the summer of 2012, Hannah made her national television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live in October, performing “Rock N’ Roll Love Affair.”
In November of 2012, after receiving direction from Prince, Hannah and her husband Joshua Welton set out to find the best female guitarist in the world. Shortly thereafter, they discovered Donna Grantis and invited her to jam. The musical camaraderie between Prince, Hannah, Grantis, and Danish bassist Ida Nielsen led to the birth of 3RDEYEGIRL. In 2013 Hannah anchored the band on their Spring tour and appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, performing the new song “Screwdriver” and the classic early Prince song “Bambi.” Hannah and the band soon followed up with their debut album titled Plectrum Electrum.
One of the things that I admire about Hannah is that she could just as easily be the subject of one of my “Great Gretsch Educators” blogs. From early on in her career she’s made a point to share her talent and knowledge. In addition to the in-store clinics and drumming events at which she’s appeared, she has also created her own “Peace Love And Drums” solo show. The idea behind this unique presentation is to share her experiences as a young musician and take her audience through the multifaceted world of music and drumming—and at the same time to inspire the audience to “dream big.”
Hannah’s main theme is the importance of music in our world today—especially in the lives of young people (a topic that’s near and dear to the Gretsch Family, as well). Hannah reaches out to kids in the audience and shows them how much fun music can be, the places it can take them, and the long-term benefits it can bring. At the same time, Hannah impresses adults in the audience with how important it is that they continue to support music programs in the local schools and communities.
You can learn more about Hannah at her web site: Hannahforddrums.com. And you can see and hear her on YouTube. Here are a few notable clips:
A 2011 clip of Hannah in clinic at the Memphis Drum Shop illustrates her improvisational soloing technique.
Hannah gets funky—and talks music and drumming—with bass star Nik West on this snippet from Drum Channel.
Hannah’s faculty recital performance at the 2012 KoSA drumming camp.
A clip of Hannah playing “fixurlifeup” with Prince is on her website.
Another performance—this one live in 2013 on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.