Get extra lift from AOPA. Start your free membership trial today! Click here

From bugs to bluegrass

Career shifts keep this musician flying

By Sheila Harris

“Banjo” Ben Clark, of Nashville, caught the flying bug while riding along on a flight lesson with Taylor Swift’s father. The instructor was the pilot for Hank Williams Jr.

Zoomed image

Clark, a bluegrass musician who offers online instruction in guitar, mandolin, and banjo to students around the world through, grew up playing classical music on the piano at his family’s farm outside of Kilgore, Texas.

“I’d never played bluegrass music until I was a sophomore in college,” Clark said, “but the first time I picked up a banjo, I fell in love with it.”

Initially dreaming of becoming a veterinarian, a goal that later shifted to becoming an entomologist, Clark did yet another about face while taking graduate courses in forensic entomology at Texas A&M University.

“When I learned that South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, offered studies in commercial music performance, I dropped everything and transferred,” he said.

After attending South Plains, Clark headed for Nashville. In 2006, he married his college sweetheart, Hannah. He was invited to play in Taylor Swift’s band the same year.

“When Taylor’s father told me he was buying an airplane, I asked him if I could have a ride sometime,” Clark said. After the flight, Clark began lessons with the same instructor. He obtained his private pilot certificate about 10 years ago, followed by his high-performance, complex, and tailwheel endorsements. He is currently working on his instrument rating.

Clark gave up playing in Taylor Swift’s band in 2012 in favor of writing and making music with his sisters, Penny and Katy, in a publishing venture with Sony ATV. However, when their father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, Penny and Katy returned home to Texas, and Ben Clark began developing his own online music instruction business, which has expanded to include the sale of musical instruments and accessories. He opened a storefront location in Missouri in September 2021. “So I bought a Cessna 182RG,” he says.

Banjo Ben’s General Store is in Exeter, Missouri, just five miles from the Cassville Municipal Airport, but some 400 miles from Clark’s home airport, Lebanon Municipal Airport in Tennessee. Clark also flies regularly to Rusk County Airport in Texas, where he raises cattle on 80 acres of his family’s farm.

Sheila Harris is an aviation enthusiast and writer from Missouri.

Related Articles