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Raised in Kirkland, WA, near Seattle, Lisa Carpenter began playing drums at age 14, and by the time she was a senior in high school she was getting paid for her work in rock bands. After playing in some local groups, Carpenter moved to Memphis to continue her recording career. It was there that she discovered the hammer dulcimer and also took a greater interest in her Cree heritage. These two things together prompted her to move to Mount Shasta, CA, and she changed her name to Gentle Thunder to reflect this change in her lifestyle. For seven years she played with the Japanese drum ensemble Shasta Taiko, and she also released her solo debut, Awakening Remembrance, which featured her dulcimer talents, in 1998.
In 2004 Winds of the Heart, on which Gentle Thunder played the Native American flute, came out, and while at a conference in Montana for that same instrument, Gentle Thunder got the chance to open for one of her inspirations, the R. Carlos Nakai Quartet. Two of its members, percussionist Will Clipman and pianist, saxophonist, and bassist AmoChip Dabney, were immediately struck by her performance, and soon the three of them entered the studio together, producing 2006's Beyond Words, a release that got the trio a nod from the Grammy committee for Best New Age Album.