Local Current Blog

Minneapolis musician Sota Smoov detained by ICE; fellow artists organize to raise awareness

John Lewis Bing III (Sota Smoov) and wife Maria Schulz. (Photo via GoFundMe.com)

This Saturday, July 13, over a dozen local musicians will spread across Minneapolis street corners and sidewalks. The performances are an effort to raise money and awareness for John Lewis Bing III, a.k.a. Sota Smoov, a Minneapolis musician who was arrested and detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on June 6.

Bing was born in Liberia, and his mother became severely ill after giving birth to him. Civil war broke out in Liberia, and Bing’s grandparents took him to Washington, D.C., then Columbus, Ohio. When he received a call from his mother saying that she was living in Minneapolis, he relocated to the city. Shortly after, he adopted the name “Sota” to pay homage to the state.

After coming to the U.S. as an infant, Bing has not yet received legal documentation to remain in the country, and now faces deportation to Liberia. Since his arrest on June 6, a number of local musicians have spoken out about his impact on the local music scene, and have organized events to raise money and awareness for him. The hashtag #FreeSota has circulated around social media, and a GoFundMe campaign is raising money for Bing’s legal fees and to support his wife and children.

“He’s a friend, he’s an important member of the community,” said Tara Grimmer, who plays in the bands Christof Rochel and the Wine-Soaked Goliards and Fuzzy Machete. “He’s always been a Minnesotan; he’s one of us.”

Grimmer organized the street performances that will take place in Minneapolis on Saturday. “The more people heard about it, the more were interested in getting involved,” she said. “Sota has a lot of friends in both the punk and the hip-hop music communities — the whole underground music scene in the Twin Cities, really — so just from word of mouth a whole bunch of people were excited to sacrifice an afternoon to put a hat or an instrument case out and see what we can do to help.”

Grimmer met Bing by performing with members of his band, Los Pinche Gueys, and has since shared stages with him as a performer and booker. “I keep a list of bands who I really like, for when I’m trying to pull a bill together, and his group has always been on my list,” she said. “They’re one of the best live bands you can see in the Twin Cities.”

In addition to Saturday’s street performances, a number of benefit concerts this month will also raise money for Bing and his family, including a fundraiser on Saturday night at Moon Palace Books, a benefit at the Turf Club on July 23, and a concert at Palmer’s Bar on July 24.

“A lot of musicians regard him as a friend, as well as a colleague,” said Grimmer. “We’re happy to spend a day doing our own small part to help.”