about the series
Claiming, Interpreting, and Sharing Musical Heritage
My Music with Rhiannon Giddens showcases breakthrough musical artists on location around the Southeast, presenting current and emerging masters across various genres of traditional American music and tracing the evolution of their craft from roots in humble cabins, rural churches, and prohibition speakeasies to modern music festivals, recording studios, and streaming platforms.
Rhiannon Giddens is dedicated to sharing the experiences and stories of people whose voices have been largely silenced, yet whose experiences profoundly inform the American story.
Singer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and impresario, Rhiannon draws from many musical traditions including blues, jazz, folk, hiphop, African, Celtic, classical, and jug band. She bridges contemporary and traditional forms, and few musicians have done more to revitalize old-time influences in current music.
Giddens grew up in the North Carolina Piedmont where her formative memories include hearing her uncle’s bluegrass band and Hank Williams songs on the radio and watching Roy Clark “pickin' and grinnin' ” every Saturday night on Hee Haw. Clark’s prowess on the banjo sparked Rhiannon’s interest, but the instrument and its related traditions felt at odds with her ethnic background.
“I’m mixed. My dad is white; my mom is black. I constantly learned how to go back and forth between one world and the other. Navigating that rub has made me who I am.”
It was only later, after earning a degree in Opera Theater from Oberlin Conservatory, that Rhiannon learned about the long and almost forgotten tradition of African-American string bands. It was a discovery that helped her find her place in American music.
At the 2005 Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, North Carolina, she met and began studying with fiddler Joe Thompson. With fellow students Justin Robinson and Don Flemons, she formed a trio that would eventually be known as the Carolina Chocolate Drops and would become the first black string band to perform on the Grand Ole Opry.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops laid claim to the history and musical contributions of African Americans in traditional American music. Their work highlighted the banjo’s history as an African and an African-American instrument, and resurrected black string band music for a new generation.
Group members went their separate ways in 2014, but by then their fourth album, Genuine Negro Jig, had won a Grammy Award.
Rhiannon launched her solo career in 2015 with the critically acclaimed album Tomorrow Is My Turn, blending country, blues, jazz, and gospel influences on songs that honored the work of African-American artists like Nina Simone. Her second solo project, Freedom Highway, featured songs, most written by her, that explore the struggle, lives, and legacy of black people in America’s history.
Our Native Daughters is a group made up of four black female banjo players: Amythyst Kiah, Allison Russell, Leyla McCalla and Rhiannon Giddens. Their 2019 album, Songs of Our Native Daughters, was named one of the best albums of that year by NPR.
Rhiannon frequently collaborates with her partner Francesco Turrisi. Together they brought out the Grammy-nominated album there is no Other in 2019 and the Grammy-winning album They’re Calling Me Home in 2021.
Rhiannon wrote the music for Lucy Negro Redux, a ballet based on a book of poetry by Caroline Randall Williams that reads Shakespeare’s “dark lady” sonnets as written to a black woman. In January of 2021 she realized a longstanding dream of singing the title role of Bess in the Greensboro (NC) Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess. Her opera Omar, based on the life of an enslaved Muslim scholar, premiered to acclaim at Charleston's Spoleto Festival USA in 2022.