Grammy Award-Winning Vocalist Abigail Washburn Announced as Carolina Performing Arts/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation DisTIL Fellow for 2018-20

Grammy Award-Winning Vocalist Abigail Washburn
Announced as Carolina Performing Arts/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation DisTil Fellow for 2018-20

Grammy award-winning vocalist, songwriter and clawhammer banjo player Abigail Washburn has been selected as the third-ever Andrew W. Mellon Foundation DisTIL Fellow at Carolina Performing Arts.

Washburn has already begun a series of “exploratory” visits to Chapel Hill, where she is meeting with UNC faculty and other potential collaborators to develop a working set of inquiries and areas of interest that will ultimately launch her full-scale projects as a DisTIL Fellow. A fluent speaker of Mandarin with profound connections to communities and traditions both global and local, she is known for creating inventive cross-cultural takes on folk and old-time music.

Ms. Washburn is certain to bring an engaging, eye-opening presence to her work with Carolina Performing Arts and the community on campus and beyond. Praised by The New Yorker, NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and other media outlets, Washburn is a prolific musician whose work mingles Appalachian and Chinese folk music, speaking to the importance of cultural understanding and the power of communal experiences rooted in traditions of sound.

On March 22, 2018, she returns to Chapel Hill with Beijing-born classically trained composer/guzheng prodigy/vocalist Wu Fei for a performance at Carolina Performing Arts. For Abigail, this performance means creating brave, intimate music with a sister from across the sea. For Fei, it is an opportunity to assimilate Chinese opera, classical and folk music into improvised song forms. During this visit, the duo will also present at UNC’s 2018 World View Symposium, which will focus on East Asia’s history, culture, diversity, contemporary affairs and changing role in the world.

Washburn’s most recent release, Echo in the Valley (2017), was recorded with her husband, 15-time Grammy award-winning banjo virtuoso, Béla Fleck. Their debut self-titled collaboration earned the 2016 Grammy for Best Folk Album. She also has a number of other solo and collaborative endeavors, ranging from the “all-g’earl” string band sound of musical group Uncle Earl to the mind-bending “chamber roots” sound of the Sparrow Quartet. Her other albums include bilingual releases Song of the Traveling Daughter (2005) and City of Refuge (2011) as well as Afterquake, a fundraiser CD for Sichuan earthquake victims. A TED Fellow, Washburn is also the first US-China Fellow at Vanderbilt University. She toured China regularly over 20 years, including a month-long tour of China’s Silk Road, supported by grants from the US Embassy in Beijing. In March of 2013, she was commissioned by New York Voices and the Public Theater to write and debut a theatrical work, Post­American Girl, which drew from her long relationship with China and addressed themes of expanding identity, cultural relativism, pilgrimage, and the universal appeal of music.

As a DisTIL Fellow, Washburn will have a creative home at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, CPA’s immersive arts venue and studio space. Located in downtown Chapel Hill’s Carolina Square development on West Franklin Street, CURRENT serves as the physical and intellectual home for our DisTil Fellows and artists-in-residence to collaborate with faculty, students and the community.

“We envision CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio to serve as an incubator for artists and audiences to co-create experiences and to serve as the home for our artists-in-residence,” said Emil J. Kang, Executive and Artistic Director of CPA. “These shared experiences will be immersive, interactive, and intimate, all qualities that resonate with our desire to bring artists and audiences closer together.”

About the DisTIL Fellowship
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation DisTIL Fellowship (Discovery Through Iterative Learning) invites artists to UNC’s campus for multiple semesters to collaborate with faculty in a department outside their own area of expertise, providing them the opportunity to gain new insights into questions they have been asking about their work and the world. The DisTIL Fellows will bring the unique creativity and approach of the arts to the work of faculty and students, helping them look at their own work through a new lens. DisTIL Fellows will share the results of their ideas and discussions with the wider community.

“Our commitment to integrating the work of our world-class artists into the academic lifeblood of the University is rooted in the strong belief that the arts are uniquely qualified to communicate across social and cultural barriers, thus fostering the understanding of and empathy for different points of view and ways of life.” said Emil J. Kang, CPA Executive and Artistic Director.

About Carolina Performing Arts

The mission of Carolina Performing Arts is to enrich lives by creating and presenting exceptional arts experiences and connecting them to the UNC community and beyond. Established in 2005 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carolina Performing Arts presents the very best from the full spectrum of the performing arts: internationally renowned recitalists and orchestras, chamber ensembles, jazz, folk, and world music artists, dance and theater. Carolina Performing Arts strives to nurture artistic innovation and the development of new works on and off campus; to challenge and inspire audiences with powerful and transformative performances; and to integrate the arts into the life of the University, embracing its mission of teaching, research and public service.

Carolina Performing Arts contact: Christina Rodriguez, (919) 962-6222,


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