Grammy-winning singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens joins the Museum’s Patrick Huber to discuss her musical career, which often explores Black musicians’ contributions to country music and other American roots-music traditions. This event—a live conversation and performance—was recorded on August 12, 2023, and offered in support of the Museum’s exhibition “American Currents: State of the Music,” which explores musical developments, artist achievements, and notable events of the previous year.
During the program, Giddens talks about her eclectic music background; discovering the Black heritage of the banjo and southern stringband traditions; and learning traditional tunes from old-time Black fiddler and fellow North Carolinian Joe Thompson, along with Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson. These informal traditional music “lessons” led to the formation of the acclaimed stringband the Carolina Chocolate Drops. On banjo, Giddens performs “Georgia Buck,” a traditional song she picked up from Thompson. She also shares “Yet to Be,” one of the tracks from her 2023 album “You’re the One.”
Giddens first gained fame as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and since 2014 has pursued a variety of musical projects, including membership in the group Our Native Daughters and collaboration with Italian musician Francesco Turrisi on “They’re Calling Me Home,” winner of the 2021 Grammy for Best Folk Album. Giddens composed the score for “Lucy Negro Redux,” a ballet about the “Dark Lady” in Shakespeare’s sonnets, which toured nationwide and was featured on PBS’s “Great Performances.” In 2022–2023, she toured with Silkroad Ensemble, a musical collective founded by Yo-Yo Ma, and now serves as its artistic director. She is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant” and a Pulitzer Prize for “Omar,” a 2022 opera she co-wrote about an African Muslim enslaved in antebellum Charleston. Also in 2022, Giddens hosted a BBC radio series about early African American music, titled “Black Roots,” and published “Build a House,” a children’s book that deals with American slavery, based on a song she wrote for Juneteenth.
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