Rhiannon Giddens is a singer, instrumentalist, and songwriter enriching our understanding of American music by reclaiming African-American contributions to folk and country genres and revealing affinities between a range of musical traditions, from gospel and Celtic to jazz and R&B.
In her recordings and live performances, Giddens has mined the history of the African American string band tradition, introducing new audiences to the black banjoists and fiddlers whose influences have been left out of popular narratives of the lineage of folk and country music.
Giddens is a native of the Piedmont region of North Carolina, and she trained as an opera singer before returning to North Carolina to immerse herself in traditional American roots music through the study of archival recordings and the mentorship of the octogenarian fiddler Joe Thompson.
Having honed her skills on the fiddle and five-string banjo, she co-founded with two other bandmates the Carolina Chocolate Drops in order to share this tradition with a new generation of listeners. Giddens' debut solo studio album Tomorrow Is My Turn (2015) offers riveting interpretations of songs that were written or made famous by women, spanning folk, bluegrass, country, gospel, jazz, Celtic, and other genres.
Her second solo album, Freedom Highway (2017), consists mainly of original compositions by Giddens, and the album traverses the experience of African Americans from slavery to the present. Drawing inspiration from slave narratives, early twentieth-century songwriters such as Mississippi John Hurt, and even a rap about police violence written by her nephew, Freedom Highway is at once a recuperation of suppressed voices and a history lesson.
Her latest album, There Is No Other, is a collaboration with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. There Is No Other was released in May 2019. With extraordinary vocal abilities and emotional range afforded by her classical training, Giddens is a powerful presence on stage, and her explanations of the historical and social contexts for the music she performs further demonstrate how discrete musical approaches can inform one another.
Giddens's drive to understand and convey the nuances, complexities, and interrelationships between musical traditions is enhancing our musical present with a wealth of sounds and textures from the past.
Giddens received a Bachelor's of Music degree (2000) from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. In 2017, she was named a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant Fellow.
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