Rhiannon Giddens (1977-present) is a multi-dimensional creator who can sing, act, pick the banjo, and play the fiddle with excellence.
Coming of age in Greensboro, North Carolina, Giddens had the sounds of Appalachia all around her. As a teen she attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and later studied opera at the Oberlin Conservatory at Oberlin College. After competing in Gaelic lilting, also known as mouth music, competitions, Rhiannon attended the 2005 Black Banjo Then and Now Gathering in Boone, North Carolina—an event that opened the door to everything from world tours to a Grammy Award. At the event, Giddens and the other members of the postmodern string band, Sankofa Strings, teamed up with musicians there to form the Carolina Chocolate Drops. After earning a Grammy, recording, and touring together, Rhiannon was the last remaining original member of the band by 2013 and pivoted to focus on her solo career thereafter.
Giddens has consistently released solo creations since her 2015 debut album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, and put out incredible interpretations of other great songwriters’ works, such as Dolly Parton, Nina Simone, and Bob Dylan. She has also spent time touring throughout Europe and the UK, making appearances on various BBC productions. Bluegrass Today sums up her prolific career as a Black woman in the international Bluegrass scene after appearing at the Newport Folk Festival: “Giddens shattered long-held stereotypes…By the time she was done, she had systematically dismantled the myth of a homogenous Appalachia.”
Listening to Rhiannon’s earthy, soaring vocals melt into familiar banjo pickings leaves no doubt that the MacArthur Genius Fellow is a Bluegrass legend.