Hank Smith will teach banjo starting this fall.
Hank Smith will teach banjo starting this fall.

The UNC Department of Music has announced that local bluegrass musician Hank Smith will join the faculty as a banjo instructor starting this fall.

Smith will add to the Bluegrass Initiative at UNC by providing individual banjo lessons and collaborating on special events.

“I’m very excited to be a part of the Bluegrass Initiative as a faculty member at UNC,” Smith said. “I am honored to take the position and look forward helping to growing the program!”

Based in Raleigh, Smith joins the faculty with more than a decade of professional experience. He currently plays with the progressive bluegrass band Hank, Pattie & the Current, whose second album, Hold Your Head High, appears on Robust Records (2017). He previously played with Hank Smith & Lindsey Tims, The Morning After, The Kickin’ Grass Band, and Barefoot Manner.

Jocelyn Neal, Professor of Music and director of the Bluegrass Initiative, said the hiring committee was looking for a musician who could connect with Carolina’s diverse music students.

“Hank is a terrific musician who brings a combination of professional performance, extensive teaching experience, and skills as a composer, together in one person,” Neal said. “His expertise includes the traditional bluegrass banjo style that was developed specifically in western North Carolina more than seven decades ago, as well as more progressive and jazz-influenced styles that are part of contemporary bluegrass’s expanded musical scene.”

Smith joins Russell Johnson, director of the Carolina Bluegrass Band, as bluegrass faculty at UNC.

“I’d like to help grow the initiative in ways that honors the music and the traditional forms therein, coaching and assisting in anyway necessary and also expand into wider territory to incorporate more elements of American music, composition, and collaboration with other genres,” Smith said.

The department added individual bluegrass lessons last year to supplement the Carolina Bluegrass Band. Johnson teaches mandolin and guitar, and now Smith will add banjo instruction to the offerings.

“The band’s first year was unbelievably successful, and to continue to develop, the individual students need access to specialized instruction to help them grow in their own skillsets,” Neal said. “Hank will certainly teach students who want to improve their banjo playing as soloists and as members of a band, but he can also teach students who want to explore other avenues of banjo performance, into the progressive styles and the intersections of bluegrass with other musical genres including jazz and classical music.”

Smith started playing banjo as a teenager while growing up in Florence, S.C. He continued honing his skills at jam sessions of the Southeastern Bluegrass Association and as a student at Winthrop University, where he received his B.A. and M.A. Smith is a graduate of the IBMA Leadership Bluegrass program, a member of the Local Organizing Committee for IBMA’s World of Bluegrass, and co-founder of the non-profit American Music Foundation of North Carolina, Inc.

Since 2009, Smith has taught banjo, mandolin, and guitar at the Raleigh Music Academy.

“I cater my teaching style to the learning style of the students so that they can best internalize and adapt the music to their own approach,” Smith said. “I hope to enrich the program through top-quality banjo instruction so the students are prepared to contribute to the band as well as lead and inspire others.”

The Bluegrass Initiative at UNC started last year with the formation of the Carolina Bluegrass Band under Johnson’s direction, a bluegrass history course taught by Neal, and a symposium held November 11-12, 2016, in collaboration with the Southern Folklife Collection and Carolina Performing Arts. In its first year, the Carolina Bluegrass Band shared the stage with Steep Canyon Rangers, Grammy winners and IBMA Entertainers of the year. The Bluegrass Initiative and Carolina Bluegrass Band are made possible through the generous support of alumnus John A. Powell ’77.

For more information, contact Andrew Tie at tie@unc.edu.

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