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The Roy Acuff Chair of Excellence

Established in 1985, the Roy Acuff Chair of Excellence brings regionally and nationally acclaimed artists to campus to work with students and the community in a dynamic atmosphere of unrestricted experimentation.The Center and the Acuff Circle of Excellence produced a video in tribute to Roy Acuff and to showcase the importance of the Acuff Chair of Excellence to the university and students.Click here to view the video.

The 2016-17 Acuff Chair of Excellence is:

Dorothy Allison

Poet and prose writer Dorothy Allison was raised in Greenville, South Carolina, by her young single mother. The first in her family to graduate from high school, Allison earned a BA at Florida Presbyterian College and also studied at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Influenced by the 1970s feminist movement, Allison’s raw, frequently brutal work explores themes of class, sexuality, and abuse. In an interview while she was Zale Writer in Residence at Tulane University, Allison stated, “If you're trying to be safe, you got no business writing. If you're trying to control what happens, you really don't have a whole lot of chance. The only thing you can control is to create as full a portrait as possible. Then you can make people seem human.”

Allison is the author of the poetry collection The Women Who Hate Me: Poems 1980–1990 (1991). Her story collection Trash (1988) won two Lambda Literary Awards and the American Library Association’s Prize for Lesbian and Gay Writing. Her best-selling novel Bastard Out of Carolina (1992) was a finalist for the National Book Award and has been translated into more than a dozen languages, as well as made into a feature film. Her novel Cavedweller (1998) was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She is also the author of the essay collection Skin: Talking about Sex, Class & Literature (1994) and the memoir Two or Three Things I Know for Sure (1995). Her work is featured in many anthologies, including The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House (2009). She is the subject of Conversations with Dorothy Allison (2012), by Mae Miller Claxton, and the short documentary film Two or Three Things but Nothing for Sure (1998), by filmmakers Tina DiFeliciantonio and Jane Wagner. Her additional honors include the Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction. 

Allison has been a contributing editor for the literary journal Tin House and has served on the boards of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, PEN International, and Feminists for Academic Freedom. She has taught at Davidson College, Emory University, and Columbia College. She lives in northern California with her family. (bio from

Former recipients of the Roy Acuff Chair of Excellence include:

Second City Fully Loaded (2015-2016) - Theatre & Dance

Cheryl Sanders Cirq du Soliel (2015-2016) - Theatre & Dance

Axis Dance Company (2015-2016) - Theatre & Dance

Rick Berger (2015-2016) - Theatre & Dance

Jeanette Lovetri, Somatic Voice Specialist (2015-2016) - Theatre & Dance

Lishi Lou and Lucky, Too (2015-2016) - Theatre & Dance

David Weinstein (2015-2016) - Theatre & Dance

Charles Niedich (2014-15) - Music

Willie Anthony Waters (2014-15) - Music

Anna Celenza (2014-15) - Music

Orchid Ensemble  (2014-15) - Music

Jo-Michael Scheibe (2014-15) - Music

Rhonda Larson (2014-15) - Music

Scott McCloud (2013-14) - American cartoonist and comics theorist, author of the classic study, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art.

David Huddle (2012-13) - Esteemed poet, fiction writer, and essayist.

Rachel Keebler (2011-12) - Theatre Design

Sarah Haas (2011-12) - Dance

Second City (2011-12) - Theatre Performance

Peiling Kao (2011-12) - Dance

Tim Miller (2011-12) - Theatre Performance

Keith Fitzpatrick (2011-12) - Dance

Anne Marie Duggan (2011-12) - Lighting Design

Anthony Zerbe (2011-12) - Theatre Performance

The Ying Quartet (2010–11) - The Ying Quartet occupies a position of unique prominence in the classical music world, combining brilliantly communicative performances with a fearlessly imaginative view of chamber music in today’s world. Now in its second decade, the Quartet has established itself as an ensemble of the highest musical qualifications in its tours across the United States and abroad. Their performances regularly take place in many of the world's most important concert halls, from Carnegie Hall to the Sydney Opera House. At the same time, the Quartet's belief that concert music can also be a meaningful part of everyday life has also drawn the foursome to perform in settings as diverse as the workplace, schools, juvenile prisons, and the White House. In fact, the Ying Quartet's constant quest to explore the creative possibilities of the string quartet has led it to an unusually diverse array of musical projects and interests.

Sydney Guillaume (2010–11) - Sydney Guillaume, originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, came to the United States at the age of 11. His compositions have been praised by the Miami Herald to show “impressive maturity and striking melodic distinction.” Guillaume hopes that his music will serve as an ambassador for his country and create an awareness of the beautiful culture that exists amidst the economic and political turmoil. Sydney is an active member of the choral community both as a composer and singer. He has been commissioned by renowned choirs such as The University of Miami Frost Chorale, Seraphic Fire, The Young New Yorkers Chorus, The Miami Children's Chorus and Kokopelli Choir. He is in high demand for commissioned works and his music has been performed at the American Choral Directors Association, All-State conventions, and abroad. Sydney resides in Los Angeles, California, where he is also pursuing a career in film music.

William Bennett (2010–11) - William Bennett, affectionately referred to by friends and students as “WIBB” has been one of the most inspiring performers and teachers of the last 40 years. A student of Jean-Pierre Rampal, Marcel Moyse, and Geoffrey Gilbert, he has embodied the best of these three great masters thereby continuing their legacy with his inspiring master classes and approach to coaching flutists towards a greater musicality. To date, he has recorded at least 300 separate musical works from the solo flute repertoire, chamber music, including selections from his vast collection of personal transcriptions for flute. His orchestral career has been prolific with his numerous performances with the London Symphony, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and the English Chamber Orchestra. His years of recordings and international performances as a soloist and Principal Flutist, along with his gift of an unique imaginative teaching style, have earned him the recognition of the Queen of England in 1995 with the OBE Award for his services in music. He is most known amongst flutists for his musical integrity, beautiful tone, and unique sense of artistry, not to mention his sense of humor. He was honored with the NFA Lifetime Achievement Award in August 2002, Washington D.C. – NFA Convention for his contributions and achievements.

Paul Schoenfield (2010–11) - Paul Schoenfield, a native of Detroit, began playing the piano at age six and wrote his first composition the following year. In addition to studying piano with Julius Chajes, Ozan Marsh, and Rudolf Serkin, he holds an undergraduate degree from Carnegie-Mellon University and a Doctor of Music Arts degree from the University of Arizona. He held a teaching position in Toledo, Ohio, lived on a kibbutz in Israel and was a free-lance composer and pianist in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area before moving to Cleveland. He is now on the faculty of the University of Michigan. Mr. Schoenfield has received commissions and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Ohio Arts Commission, Chamber Music America, Rockefeller Fund, Minnesota Commissioning Club, American Composers Forum, Soli Deo Gloria of Chicago, and the Juilliard School for its centennial. Although he now rarely performs, he was formerly an active pianist, touring the United States, Europe, and South America as a soloist and with groups including Music from Marlboro. His recordings as a pianist include the complete violin and piano works of Bartok with Sergiu Luca. His compositions can be heard on the Angel, Decca, Innova, Vanguard, EMI, Koch, BMG, and the New World labels. A man of many interests, Paul Schoenfield is also an avid scholar of mathematics and Hebrew.

Clifton Ware (2010–11) - Dr. Clifton Ware, an internationally known vocal pedagogue, master teacher, tenor soloist and author. Professor Emeritus of Voice Pedagogy, University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, received his DM degree in vocal performance from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. As the chair of the Roy A. Schuessler Vocal Arts Center (1990-2007), he conceived, organized, and executed many successful vocal events for the benefit of the local, regional, and national vocal communities. He has been engaged as a guest artist/teacher at fifty-five colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Korea, Japan, South America and Europe, in addition to giving presentations at numerous professional meetings. As a tenor soloist, he has performed extensively in opera (53 roles), oratorio (79 works), and numerous recital venues in the U.S. and abroad. He can be heard on four recordings, including Benjamin Britten's St. Nicolas (MHS) and Paul Bunyan (Virgin Records). Dr. Ware has authored three highly acclaimed publications: Adventures in Singing (McGraw-Hill, 4e 2008), Basics of Vocal Pedagogy (McGraw-Hill, 1998), and The Singer’s Life: Goals and Roles (Birch Grove Publications, 2005). His most recent book—The Aging Challenge: Making the Most of Life After 50—was released in January 2009. All books contain themes related to mind-body health and living a balanced life.

Ian Berry (2009-10) - Ian Berry is the Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs and Curator at The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College. A specialist in contemporary art, he has organized several exhibitions for The Tang Museum, including projects that combine antique maps, scientific equipment, Rube Goldberg cartoons, and Shaker furniture, with new works of international contemporary art.

Louise Erdrich (2008-09) - Louise Erdrich is the author of twelve novels as well as volumes of poetry, children's books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was a finalist for the National Book Award. She lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.

Lawrence Goldhuber (2007-08) - is a choreographer, dancer, actor, and performance artist who has worked in New York for more than 20 years.

The Second City Touring Company (2007-08) - The Second City Touring Company has been bringing laughter and joy to packed houses all over North America for over forty five years. Funny and fast-paced, The Second City is ideal entertainment for venues looking to reach both new audiences and old. Whether it’s a one night engagement or a sit down run, The Second City is always topical, highly interactive and sure to have audiences rolling in the aisles.

Mark Block (2007-08) - Talent Agent - The Block Agency is the Southeast's premiere and most selective modeling and talent agency. The Block Agency is focused on providing both talent and clients the personal service they deserve and we will work our hardest to get talent paid as fast as possible. A brand new agency with young, fresh energy, The Block Agency is dedicated to placing the Southeast's top models and actors in the perfect roles.

Annmarie Duggan (2007-08) -Lighting Designer - Duggan’s recent design credits include: Animal Cracker, for the Skylight Opera, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Beauty and The Beast for Seaside Music Theatre, Daytona Beach, Florida; the York Theater production of Captain Louie in New York City; and The American Girls Revue, The American Girl Theatre, Chicago, Illinois. Duggan has designed lights for the world premiere of Sherry Landrum and George S. Clinton’s bluegrass musical, That Other Woman’s Child. Her work has been seen in theatres around the country.

Karen E. Maguire (2007-08) - toured her play, Love Arm’d, Aphra Behn & Her Pen nationally and internationally to the Bedlam Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Mission Theatre in Bath, England. Her play about Jane Austen had a workshop in Stockton, California, and Pace University, culminating in a performance in New York City at the renowned Players Club and at the Mission Theatre in Bath, England for the Jane Austen Festival and was invited back to a week long run to great acclaim. Maguire is currently managing Director for Blue Roses Productions.

7 Stages Inc.  - Bernard Koltes (2007-08) - 7 Stages is a professional, non-profit theatre company devoted to engaging artists and audiences by focusing on the social, political, and spiritual values of contemporary culture. 7 Stages gives primary emphasis to international work and the support and development of new plays, new playwrights, and new methods of collaboration.

Cantus (2006-07) - Cantus was founded in the fall of 1995 when a few college friends gathered on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. The Washington Post called the singers' sound "beaming and elastic" and referred to their music as "spontaneous grace."

Bodo Igesz (2006-07) - A career of over 40 years has taken Mr. Igesz across three continents. In the U.S. A. he is well-known for his work at the Metropolitan Opera.

Tony Plog (2006-07) - The music of Anthony Plog has been performed in over 30 countries around the world. He is the recipient of numerous grants and commissions, including the National Endowment for the Arts ( for the American Brass Quintet), the Malmo Symphony ( Sweden ), Nick Norton and the Utah Symphony, the Summit Brass, the GECA Brass Ensemble in France, the Chicago Chamber Musicians, the University of Texas at Austin, and the St. Louis Brass Quintet.

John L.Whitwell (2006-07) - is Director of bands, Professor of Music and Chair of the Conducting Area at Michigan State University, where he conducts the Wind Symphony and guides the graduate degree programs in Wind Conducting.

Lee Hoiby (2006-07) - was an American classical pianist and composer. He was one of the most notable living composers of classical vocal music

Linda Norlen (2005-06) – graphic designer and critic.

Michael Blumenthal (2004-05) – internationally renowned poet and memoirist, author of Against Romance and All My Fathers and Mothers.

Louis Fantasia (2003-04) – internationally prominent actor, director, producer, theatre critic and arts commentator.

Elizabeth Walton Vercoe (2002-03) – prominent 20th century composer.

Carol Scott-Kassner (2002-03) – nationally known author of music education literature.

George McCauley (2001-02) – acclaimed ceramicist.

David Bradley (2000-01) – African American scholar and novelist, author of The Chaneysville Incident.

Kelly Morgan (1999-00) – nationally prominent actor, director, producer, choreographer, teacher and administrator in stage, film and television.

Dalton Baldwin (1998-99) – internationally acclaimed pianist.

Matthew Harp Allen (1998-99) – ethnomusicologist.

Donna Loewy (1998-99) – vocal coach/accompanist.

David Holsinger (1998-99) – eminent band composer.

Frederic Goossen (1998-99) – nationally known composer/music theorist.

Cedric Dent (1998-99) – Grammy award-winning singer, pianist, arranger, conductor and producer.

Frances Whitehead (1997-98) – internationally acclaimed sculptor.

Carolyn Forche' (1996-97) – poet and global champion of the oppressed and downtrodden.

Elizabeth Van Dyke (1995-96) – multi-award winning actress and director.

Tim Gerber (1994-95) – music educator and co-author of the popular text, Music! Its Role and Importance in our Lives.

Jim Nutt (1993-94) – internationally distinguished painter.

John Haines (1992-93) – two-time Guggenheim Fellow, poet and essayist.

Howard Stein (1991-92) – internationally acclaimed thespian, playwright and author.

Ron Nelson (1990-91) – nationally known composer of choral, band and orchestral works.

Ted Orland (1988-89) – nationally recognized photographer/artist.

David Madden (1987-88) – Southern fiction writer, playwright, critic and author.

Arthur Kopit (1986-87) – internationally acclaimed American playwright.