Rhiannon Giddens is one of the founding members of The Carolina Chocolate Drops. The band is arguably one of the most influential string bands to come out of the North Carolina Piedmont in decades. Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons and Justin Roberts helped revive the Black string band tradition. They were mentored by fiddler Joe Thompson. The three young musicians spent countless hours at Joe’s house in Mebane learning the tunes that he and his cousin Odell played together at square dances and frolics back in the day.
“I was attracted to the banjo before I knew the history of it,” said Rhiannon to The Bluegrass Newsletter in 2016. “I just loved it…and then getting into the African roots of it I was just flabbergasted… It’s a huge history that nobody talks about and that really drew me.”
Rhiannon has performed for PineCone audiences as a part of the Down Home Concert series, at free concerts in the park and at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass. In 2017 she delivered the keynote address for the weeklong event in Raleigh. During her speech she challenged bluegrass professionals to make sure the music, and events like World of Bluegrass, are welcoming and inclusive.
“Music has a power to bring us together in ways books, lectures, and indoctrination don’t. So the question becomes – are we going to let bluegrass, as an art form, recognize the fullness of its history? Are we going to acknowledge that the question is not, how do we get diversity into bluegrass, but how do we get diversity BACK into bluegrass? How do we reframe the narrative so that it is seen to be welcoming to all – that the impact of Arnold Shultz, for example, on Bill Monroe is not a footnote, but rather recognized as being part of the main narrative of the story?”
Rhiannon won a Grammy with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. As a solo artist she’s been nominated 8 times for Grammy Awards and won twice. She also won the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in the Banjo in 2016 and the following year was awarded a MacArthur “Genius Grant” by the MacArthur Foundation.
Her 2022 album “They’re Calling Me Home” was released by Nonesuch Records. The title track was written by Piedmont legend Alice Gerrard. No Depression Magazine called it “…a near perfect album…her finest work to date.”
She is currently working as the Artistic Director for the Silk Road Ensemble. The adventurous group was founded by cellist Yo Yo Ma and is widely recognized as a model for cultural collaboration. Under Rhiannon’s leadership the Ensemble strives to serve as an “…exchange of ideas, traditions, and innovation across borders, (answering the) simple question: ‘What happens when strangers meet?’”