Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi
Singer, songwriter, actor, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens grew up in the North Carolina Piedmont, where some of her formative memories include listening to her uncle’s bluegrass band and watching Roy Clark “picking and grinning” every Saturday night on Hee Haw. Clark’s prowess on the banjo sparked Rhiannon’s interest – but somehow felt at odds with her multi-racial background. It was only later – after receiving a degree in Opera Theater from Oberlin Conservatory – that Rhiannon learned about the long, almost forgotten line of traditional black string bands and found her place in American music history. At the 2005 Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, North Carolina, she studied with African-American fiddler Joe Thompson and, with fellow students Justin Robinson and Don Flemons, formed a trio that would eventually be called the Carolina Chocolate Drops – and would become the first black string band to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. The band’s fourth album Genuine Negro Jig (2011), won a GRAMMY.
After the Chocolate Drops broke up in 2014, Giddens launched her solo career in 2015 and today, with too many prestigious awards and nominations to list individually, her musical fingerprints are found on a wide rage of projects driven by her determination to excavate the histories of forgotten and excluded people. “Music,” she said, “has a power to bring us together in ways books, lectures, and indoctrination don’t.” In 2017, she was awarded a MacArthur Genius Fellowship, and became one of only four musicians to play at both the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals.
In 2019, Giddens released two studio albums: “Songs of Our Native Daughters” with Allison Russell, Leyla McCalla and Amythyst Kiah, and “There Is No Other” with Italian musician Francesco Turrisi. Her 2020 “I’m On My Way” has been nominated for a GRAMMY in the Best American Roots Performance category.