They’re partners in life – and in their musical tastes

Fine Arts

April 6, 2021

By Kelly Klingelhutz ’21

They say opposites attract. Yet, what brought Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn together was actually their similarities: their love for music and more specifically, the banjo.

Since meeting at a square dance and getting married in 2009, the artists have been partners in both music and in life.

This “king and queen of the banjo” (per Paste Magazine) are showcasing their musical talents in a streamed performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday April 16. Their performance is sponsored by the Fine Arts Series at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.

With two virtuosic musicians on banjos and Washburn adding her ethereal voice, the evening promises a riveting performance of pure musicianship.

Fleck has been called the world’s premier banjo player, combining genres of bluegrass, jazz, classical pop, rock and world beat into his performances. This ingenuity has led him to virtually reinventing the image and idea of the banjo, and he has won 15 Grammy Awards.

Aside from being nominated in more categories than any artist in Grammy history, Fleck has written concertos for symphony orchestras, explored the African roots of the banjo and collaborated with artists across genres.

Washburn, who once had aspirations to be a lawyer in China, has used her intensive knowledge in the Chinese culture and language to tie Chinese folk music into her old-time Americana music career. The singer-songwriter has toured around the world and is one of the few international artists to tour China regularly.

Washburn accomplishments also include being named a Ted Fellow, the first U.S.-China Fellow at Vanderbilt University and a Andrew W. Mellon DisTIL Fellow at Carolina Performing Arts at UNC-Chapel Hill. These numerous recognitions reflect Washburn’s efforts to promote cultural understanding and improve U.S. -China relations through the communal experience of music and sound.

Together, this accredited duo has recorded two albums, a self-titled debut album (2014, Rounder Records), which won a Grammy for Best Folk Album, and Echo in the Valley (2017, Rounder Records). By marrying the sounds of the banjo with traditional American music and unconventional genres, the artists create music that feels both incredibly unique yet comfortingly familiar.

Their clear connection and each musician’s unique music personality shine in their performances, with the banjo at the heart of it all. The collaboration elevates each individual artist, yet creates something that neither of them have done on their own.

As Washburn explained to the Kurland Agency, working with her husband required “a spirit of staying strong, but also a willingness to release into the other’s ideas to create something new.”

Tickets will go on sale on April 1. The suggested price is $20 per ticket and tickets are free for CSB/SJU students.

During the 2020-21 academic year, the Fine Arts Series has introduced “Pay-As-You-Can ticketing” in an effort to make the arts more accessible to the public. Please note that for any ticket with a dollar amount, there will be a $2 fee.

This Fine Arts Series event is funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. It is also supported in part by the voters of Minnesota through an operating support grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

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