Only a few artists’ music can be recognized within seconds, and two-time Grammy winner and MacArthur grant recipient Rhiannon Giddens falls intoin that rare category. A singer, writer, multi-instrumentalist, and actress, Giddons isexists as one of America’s most versatile and dynamic artists.
In 2006, Giddens’ band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, released its first album Dona Got Ramblin’ Mind, on the Music Maker Foundation label. After selling 30,000 copies, the album’s success enabled Tim Duffy to facilitate the Drops signing with Nonesuch Records. The band’s second album, and their first on Nonesuch, Genuine Negro Jig, earned a Grammy for Best Folk Album in 2010.
Her commitment to preserving the music and stories of past generations from her own mixed ancestry parallels the work of Music Maker and strengthens the folklore field in fresh ways.
“I grew up thinking the banjo was invented in the mountains, that string band music and square dances were strictly white preserve and history–that while Black folk were singing spirituals and playing the blues, white folk were do-si-doing and fiddling up a storm–and never the twain did meet–which led me to feeling like an alien in what I find out is my own cultural tradition. But by 1900 this cross-cultural music was all over the South, not just the Appalachians, and a common repertoire was played by black and white musicians, not to mention regional styles, which often cared nothing for race. My own mentor Joe Thompson constantly talked about white musicians who lived in this area who he learned tunes from, and there was a constant stream of local white musicians who learned from and played with him, in what turns out to be a great American tradition.”
A three-time NPR Tiny Desk Concert alum, Giddens hosts her own show, My Music with Rhiannon Giddens, on PBS. Giddens was also a member of The New Basement Tapes, Our Native Daughters, and Silk Road Ensemble. She’s contributed music to nearly a dozen soundtracks for film and TV. Giddens can be seen as a cast member on the show Nashville, as well as cameo appearances in Parenthood, Nurse Jackie, and in the Denzel Washington film The Great Debaters. Giddens co-wrote the music based on a book of poetry titled Black Lucy & The Bard that the Nashville Ballet premiered in 2019. Giddens has also authored two children’s books Build a House and We Could Fly.
In 2023, the opera Omar, co-written by Giddens, won the Pulitzer Prize in Music. Her third solo album, You’re The One, contains all original songs that traverse musical territory such as blues, jazz, cajun, country gospel, and rock. Giddens was nominated for two Grammys in 2024: Best Roots Performance for her song “You Louisiana Man”, and Best Americana Album for You’re The One.
Giddens possesses a vast talent. She’s a master of the banjo. Her angelic voice sounds like no other. The breadth and depth of her original works evidences a deep wellspring of unparalleled creativity. Rhiannon Giddens ranks as one of America’s most talented, compelling, and versatile artists in the 21st century. It’s no mistake that Music Maker Foundation served as the launching pad for Giddens’ distinguished career.
Rhiannon was born on February 21, 1977 in Greensboro, North Carolina.