Sewanee names Ben Sollee as the Stowe Artist in Residence

Ben Sollee, Sewanee’s new Stowe Artist in Residence. Photo courtesy of

By Jackson Campbell
Contributing Writer

Ben Sollee, the acclaimed contemporary songwriter-cellist, has been named the Stowe Artist in Residence by the Sewanee Department of Music. This program, which notably brought James Wilson and The Sons of Bill in 2017, sponsors an artist to not only come and perform, but also to mentor Sewanee students in a nontraditional environment for two days.

Sollee will be accompanied by his band The Kentucky Native for a performance in Guerry Auditorium on Thursday, April 12, at 8:15 p.m. to conclude the residence. The performance is free and open to the public.

Sollee is a Kentucky-born artist and composer who has toured across Europe, created songs for films and TV shows like ABC’s Parenthood, HBO’s Weeds, and the Robert De Niro film Killing Season, and performed at Carnegie Hall in the tribute for Paul Simon. He and his band The Kentucky Native gained national recognition after an NPR Tiny Desk Concert and soon after an interpretation of Sam Cooke’s classic song “A Change is Gonna Come.”

Since then, the band have enjoyed a prolific streak of song creation by releasing almost an album a year. Most recently, they released an album named after the ensemble which Sollee describes on his website by saying, “It’s the music of Irish and Scottish musicians bringing their fiddle tunes; it is gospel music; it is African music; it is gypsy jazz; it is rock ‘n’ roll. It is all these things. What makes it unique and of Kentucky is that it was distilled by the people who lived here in Kentucky, and turned into something else.”

Sollee has also gained international recognition for his environmental activism by companies including Patagonia Clothing and Oxfam America. In his album Dear Companion, Sollee collaborates with fellow Kentuckian Daniel Martin Moore as well as Jim James (from my morning jacket) to create an album focused on the environmental impacts of Mountaintop Removal Strip Mining.

He also has given presentations on sustainability at numerous festivals which include South By Southwest Music (2011) and TedX San Diego (2012). Most famously, Sollee and percussionist Jordon Ellis packed their touring gear and set out on a 5,000 mile bike tour across the country as part of their “Ditch The Van” tours.

Sollee and Ellis will be on campus from Tuesday to Thursday and will later be met by Julian Pinelli on fiddle, Bennett Sullivan on Banjo, and Alex Browne on bass for their final performance in Guerry. They will advise and mentor Sewanee student musicians during their visit.

A generous gift from Sewanee parents Barry and Sherri Stowe makes the residency possible.