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Cultural Percussionist

Bela Fleck Day

Béla Anton Leoš Fleck (born July 10, 1958) is an American banjo player. An innovative and technically proficient banjo player, he is best known for his work with the bands New Grass Revival and Béla Fleck and the FlecktonesA native of New York City, Fleck was named after Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, Austrian composer Anton Webern, and Czech composer Leoš Janáček. He was drawn to the banjo at a young age when he heard Earl Scruggs play the theme song for the television show Beverly Hillbilliesand when he heard “Dueling Banjos” by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell on the radio. At age of 15, he received his first banjo from his grandfather. During the train ride home, a man volunteered to tune the banjo and suggested he learn from the book How to Play the Five String Banjo by Pete Seeger. He attended the High School of Music & Art in New York City, playing French horn until he flunked and was transferred to the choir, though he spent most of his time on the banjo. He studied the book Bluegrass Banjo by Pete Wernick and took lessons from Erik Darling, Marc Horowitz, and Tony Trischka. He is Jewish.

After graduating from high school, he moved to Boston and became a member of the group Tasty Licks, with whom he recorded two albums. He released his debut solo album, Crossing the Tracks (1979), and it was chosen Best Overall Album by the readers of Frets magazine.

Fleck played on the streets of Boston with bassist Mark Schatz. Along with guitarist Glen Lawson and mandolinist Jimmy Gaudreau, they formed Spectrum in 1981. That same year, Sam Bush asked Fleck to join New Grass Revival. Fleck performed with New Grass Revival for nine years. During this time, in 1987 Fleck recorded another solo album, Drive, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1988 for Best Bluegrass Album. During the 1980s Fleck and Bush also performed live with Doc Watson and Merle Watson in bluegrass festivals, most notably the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

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