Ben Sollee Performing Live
|Birth name||Benjamin Croft Sollee|
|Origin||Lexington, Kentucky, United States|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, singer, songwriter, composer|
|Labels||Tin Ear Records, Sub Pop, SonaBLAST! Records|
|Associated acts||Sparrow Quartet
Ben Sollee (born November 28, 1983) is an American cellist, singer-songwriter, and composer known for his innovative playing style, genre-bending songwriting, electrifying performances, political activism, and wide appeal. His music incorporates banjo, guitar, and mandolin along with percussion and unusual cello techniques to create a unique sound. His songs exhibit a mix of folk, bluegrass, jazz, and R&B elements. Sollee has also composed longer instrumental pieces for dance ensembles and for film.
Early Life and Education
Ben Sollee was raised in Lexington, Kentucky, and attended public schools where he was introduced to the cello in the fourth grade. Yates Elementary School orchestra teacher Ellen Dennison brought a collection of musical instruments into his class and demonstrated them for the students. Sollee was quickly charmed by what he called the "growly" sound of the cello and chose it as the instrument to learn to play, and he eventually became the only cello player in his school orchestra. In addition to studying classical music in school, Sollee was exposed to other kinds of music at home and in his extended family. His father, Robert, was an R&B guitar player and his mother, Myra, was a singer. Most especially, his maternal grandfather, Elvis Henry Cornelius was an Appalachian fiddler. Music around the home featured recordings of such artists as Wilson Pickett, Ray Charles, Phoebe Snow, and Otis Redding. As he was growing up, Sollee spent many hours in the company of his fiddler grandfather at jam sessions and gatherings in the barns and hollers of rural Kentucky, picking out as best he could on his cello the fiddle tunes and folk songs of the Appalachian Plateau. His growth as a musician, and eventually as a songwriter, straddled two non-overlapping worlds—that of classical music during his days in the school program, and the distinctly non-academic music of his rustic family forebears in the evenings and on weekends.
Raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Sollee began playing the cello in elementary school. Besides classical music, his early musical influences included recordings his parents played of Wilson Pickett, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday and Otis Redding, and later he discovered folk music.
In 2005, Sollee joined with Abigail Washburn (banjo and vocals), Bela Fleck (banjo) and Casey Driessen (violin) to form The Sparrow Quartet. The group's debut album, Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet, was released in May 2008. That same month, Sollee came out with his first EP If You're Gonna Lead My Country. A month later, in June 2008, he released his solo debut album Learning to Bend.
In 2007, NPR's Morning Edition named Sollee one of the "Top Ten Unknown Artists of the Year". Following the release of his album in 2008, the public radio network's All Things Considered aired a feature on Sollee, describing Learning to Bend as "an inspired collection of acoustic, folk and jazz-flavored songs, filled with hope and the earnest belief that the world is good."
Sollee has also been featured on the PBS series On Canvas, recorded at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia; he was 17 years old when he started a weekly run as the cellist on the house band, the Folk Boy Orchestra, of the radio program WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Sollee's song "How to See the Sun Rise" was featured in a Season 4 episode of the Showtime television series Weeds.
In November 2009, Ben toured with his friend, Cincinnati singer-songwriter Kim Taylor. Taylor and Sollee had done occasional shows together since 2007, but this tour found them playing both solo material, and accompanying one another during each other's sets.
Dear Companion, out February 16, 2010 on Sub Pop Records, is collaboration between three Kentucky musicians. The songs are written and performed by Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore, and produced by and featuring Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Monsters of Folk. Recorded in the first half of 2009 in their home state, Dear Companion explores their ties to the place they love and aims to draw attention to the problem of mountaintop removal coal mining and its impact on the people and heritage of central Appalachia. The album debuted at number 6 in the nation.
In June 2011, Ben Sollee performed at Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee both as an individual artist and with My Morning Jacket.
On August 12, 2011, Ben Sollee made a surprise appearance at the Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe in Frankfort, KY to play at an open mic in support of Commonwealth Gardens, a local community gardening group fighting to empower local food production and consumption. He played about 6 or 7 songs with various musicians, mostly his drummer Jordon Ellis.
British artist Joe Simpson named his exhibition 'Everything Is Electrified' after Sollee's song. The show was exhibited in London in 2012.
Sollee's music frequently touches on social issues including poverty and environmental issues. As a native of Kentucky he is especially passionate about the issue of mountaintop removal in coal mining. This is one of the themes of his collaboration album Dear Companion. He frequently plays benefit concerts for the organizations Kentuckians For the Commonwealth and Oxfam America, and has made several tours of Kentucky on his bicycle, stopping in smaller towns between his headlining performances. Of specific note is the tour in the Summer of 2009 which was put on in conjunction with Oxfam America, in which he traveled 330 miles to the Bonnaroo festival with his supplies and cello strapped to his bicycle. He uses a special long-frame bicycle made by Xtracycle which weighs about 60 lbs when fully packed.
- If You're Gonna Lead My Country EP (2008)
- Something Worth Keeping EP (2008)
- Learning to Bend (sonaBLAST! Records, 2008)
- Dear Companion (with Daniel Martin Moore) (2010)
- Inclusions (2011)
- Live at The Grocery On Home (sonaBLAST! Records, 2012)
- Half Made Man (2012)
- The Hollow Sessions (2013)
- "On Tour". WHYY. October 8, 2008. Retrieved 2015-08-28.
- "All Things Considered". NPR. July 5, 2008. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
- cmt.com Bio page
- "Morning Edition". NPR. December 28, 2007. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
- "Listen: Ben Sollee". Consequence of Sound. July 23, 2008. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
- Weeds music
- "Kim Taylor Tells The Greatest Story". Cincinnati City Beat. October 30, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
- "Bonnaroo Goes Green: Rocker Ben Sollee Bikes to Mega Festival." Jeff Biggers, Huffington Post
Media related to Ben Sollee at Wikimedia Commons
- Ben Sollee's official website
- Oxfam America blog entry and video about Sollee's work with the humanitarian organization