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BJUGrass comprised of 5 students and a President

Published on Sunday, March 1, 2020

• Listen to BJUGrass here.

By ANDREW SCHMIDT

The BJUGrass holds the distinction of being a bluegrass ensemble made up of “five students and one college president” said the group’s mandolin player, Bob Jones University President Dr. Steve Pettit.

Pettit grew up in the South where bluegrass was a comfortable and familiar sound and inseparably linked to regional culture. “They say you can’t have barbeque without bluegrass,” Pettit said. Pettit said he appreciates that bluegrass’s unique sound is an American invention and the cultural and historical importance that comes with that.

Pettit said he appreciates the way bluegrass uses music to tell stories of everyday existence. “Bluegrass is just singing songs about life,” Pettit said.

Pettit played his mandolin with a small group of musicians at church services, activities and events during 19 of his 29 years as an evangelist. The group played a combination of bluegrass, gospel, and Celtic music.

After becoming president of BJU, Pettit did not get many chances to play. “I played music every day for twenty years and when I came to Bob Jones my first year I didn’t play anything,” Pettit said. “I just was the president, and after a year, I said, ‘Man, I really want to get back to playing.’”

Pettit said he could not fully realize this dream on his own. “Bluegrass is a team sport,” Pettit said. “In order to do [bluegrass] you really have to have people that understand it.”

Enter the Skillman sisters, Moriah and Madison, and the group that would eventually become BJUGrass began.

About two-and-a-half years ago, Pettit heard that the sisters, BJU students, grew up playing guitar and fiddle, respectively, in a family bluegrass band. Pettit invited the Skillman sisters to his office and asked them to bring their instruments. Pettit listened to the sisters play and joined in with them on his mandolin.

Pettit asked the Skillmans if they would be interested in playing bluegrass with him once a week and they agreed. Word about this small informal bluegrass group spread and occasionally they would be invited to play somewhere.

Carson Aaron, bass, Caleb Rollins, banjo, and Grace Aaron, a second guitarist, competed the ensemble. The group received more frequent invitations to services and events and formally became the BJUGrass in 2018.

The group’s inclusion of BJU students and the University’s president creates an interesting dynamic. Pettit said he told the group from the start, “It might be a little weird for you to be playing with me one day and hearing me speak in chapel the next. It doesn’t bother me, but I don’t want you to be uncomfortable from it.”

As a result of the transparent relationship combined with regular practices and performances, Pettit considers his fellow BJUGrass musicians personal friends and has a closer relationship with them than he can have with other BJU students.

The International Bluegrass Music Association invited BJUGrass to the college division 2019 World of Bluegrass festival in Raleigh, the largest bluegrass festival in the world. The group performed at many venues since.

BJUGrass played at the Logos Theater on Friday accompanied by four-time Grammy Award winning fiddler, Andy Leftwitch and singer, songwriter and evangelist Bruce Frye.

 

 

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