Kentucky native Ben Sollee picked up the Cello in 4th grade. Sixteen years later, he still hasn’t put it down. You can tell by the way he cradles his instrument – a near snuggle – they’ve been lifelong companions.
Raised in a family of home musicians (his mom, Myra, sings; his dad, a city boy from S. Carolina, plays rhythm & blues guitar), Ben says it was the structure of the program originally offered at school that attracted him to learn and to stick with the cello. He went on to study and play throughout college, where he reached a pivotal conclusion: Ben Sollee is a performer at heart, a self-termed “pleaser in general”. This realization steered him to shift his studies to performance rather than teaching and guided him to focus anew on his career trajectory. He describes this defining moment as a time of “suffering and renewed commitment which created a shift, like marriage.”
Ben’s style is fresh, fluid and mature. At 24, he exudes balanced assuredness. Chosen by NPR as a Top-10 Great Unknown Artist of 2007, he has already experienced collaborations with bluesman Otis Taylor and in the Sparrow Quartet, a compelling Chi-tucky foursome with Abigail Washburn, Casey Driessen and Bela Fleck. Upon meeting Ben, I learned early it was his last day of a three week tour, he’s the proud daddy of a 10-month-old boy named Oliver, and he was the only cellist in his graduating class to emerge injury-free (it’s in his natural rhythmic movement, the way he wholly grooves). Success befits him – it’s in his soul fiber and it radiates not only through his original playing but also in the easy clear ring of his voice. Gracefully, Ben Sollee employs the potent combination of people pleasing and visibility to serve a greater purpose. His songs, which speak in broad terms of democracy and freedom, also transmit universal messages of love and the human condition on a personal level. He attributes his songwriting inspiration to his desire for a broader sense of connection with a wide spectrum of people, “…’cause we’re all in the same boat.”
From original love songs (Prettiest Tree on the Mountain, How to See the Sun Rise), stories of experience and tunes with a message (A Few Honest Words, Mute With a Bullhorn) to covers, both traditional and a la mode, all the way to Carrie Belle, an accapella fieldworker’s song for relief, Ben’s dedicated delivery of cello like you’ve probably never heard it before (he picks, bites and bows) and pleasing vocals are both uplifting and refreshing.
listen to the tracks (option/click to download):
Keep your eyes peeled for Ben Sollee’s upcoming project with Daniel Martin Moore, the MTR project, a musical endeavor geared toward awareness to preserve Apalachia, the ‘Saudi of Coal,’ from devastating mountaintop removal.