|Grammy-winning, genre-bending musician Béla Fleck will play MTSU’s Windham Lecture Series in Liberal Arts into its second decade when the renowned banjoist serves as guest speaker on Tuesday, March 15, in Tucker Theatre.
“A Conversation with Béla Fleck,” which will mark the Windham Lectures’ 20th year, will begin at 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the general public.
MTSU will whet audiences’ appetites for Fleck’s lecture on Monday, Feb. 28, when the Student Programming Films Committee offers a free public showing of the documentary on Fleck’s pilgrimage to Africa to learn about the banjo’s origins. “Throw Down Your Heart” will be screened at 4 p.m. Feb. 28 in the Keathley University Center Theater.
Fleck just received his 14th Grammy Award, the “Best Contemporary World Music Album” for “Throw Down Your Heart, Africa Sessions Part 2: Unreleased Tracks.”
Fleck began his career on the guitar, but he was struck by the bluegrass sounds of Flatt & Scruggs, particularly Earl Scruggs' banjo style, while watching “The Beverly Hillbillies” on TV. He began playing a banjo his grandfather bought him when he was 15 and, taught by artists as varied as Erik Darling, Marc Horowitz and Tony Trischka, Fleck was soon playing in bands and made his first solo album, “Crossing the Tracks,” at age 19. His second album, “Natural Bridge,” teamed him with David Grisman, Mark O'Connor, Ricky Skaggs, Darol Anger, Mike Marshall and other great players.
In 1981, Fleck was invited to join New Grass Revival, reuniting with an old pal, mandolinist Sam Bush, and adding Pat Flynn on guitar and John Cowan on bass to chart new territory with their blend of bluegrass, rock and country. During Fleck’s nine years with NGR, he continued to record solo albums for Rounder Records and collaborated with Bush, O’Connor, Jerry Douglas and Edgar Meyer in an acoustic supergroup, Strength in Numbers.
Toward the end of the New Grass years, Fleck met keyboardist and harmonica player Howard Levy and connected with bassist Victor Wooten and his brother, percussionist Roy “FutureMan” Wooten. That one-shot appearance on the PBS “Lonesome Pine Specials” became the first performance of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, whose “blu-bop” jazz-bluegrass synthesis has led to best-selling CDs, multiple Grammy nominations and international tours. Levy left the Flecktones after three albums and was replaced by saxophonist Jeff Coffman.
The group will be touring again this year with Levy as Béla Fleck and the Original Flecktones; Coffin will join the tour later, and the Flecktones plan a stop at Bonnaroo 2011 in Manchester, Tenn., on Friday, June 10, as well.
In the midst of tour preparations and countless side projects, Fleck also is working on his first standalone banjo concerto, commissioned by the Nashville Symphony, which is set for a September premiere.
Fleck’s most recent Grammy came as a result of his 2005 excursions to Mali, The Gambia, Tanzania and Uganda to study the African origins of the banjo. He has been nominated in more different categories than anyone in Grammy history—bluegrass, classical, contemporary Christian, country, gospel, jazz, pop and spoken-word.
MTSU’s Windham Lecture Series in Liberal Arts was established by William and Westy Windham through the MTSU Foundation. Dr. William Windham was a member of the MTSU faculty from 1955 to 1989 and served as chairman of the Department of History the last 11 years. The late Westy Windham (1927-91) earned a master's degree in sociology at MTSU and was the founder of the Great American Singalong.
The inaugural Windham Lecture in 1990 featured Drs. Dan T. Carter of Emory University and Dewey W. Grantham of Vanderbilt University, who spoke on “The South and the Second Reconstruction.” Since then, the Windham Lectures have addressed topics spanning from American music to presidential rhetoric to gambling to U.S. foreign policy.
The Windham series is sponsored annually by the College of Liberal Arts and its departments. For more information, please contact the college at 615-494-7628.