Rhiannon Giddens
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Rhiannon Giddens
Rhiannon Giddens
Rhiannon Giddens with banjo
Background information
Born (1977-02-21) February 21, 1977 (age 42)
Greensboro, North Carolina, United States
Rhiannon Giddens
At Aarhus Festival 2015

Rhiannon Giddens (born February 21, 1977) is an American musician. She is known as the lead singer, violinist, banjo player and a founding member of the Grammy-winning[1]country, blues and old-time music band Carolina Chocolate Drops. She is a native of Greensboro, North Carolina, an alumna of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics,[2] and a 2000 graduate of Oberlin Conservatory where she studied opera.[3] In addition to her work with the Drops, Giddens has released two solo albums: Tomorrow Is My Turn (2015) and Freedom Highway (2017).

Musical career

Rhiannon Giddens
at Rudolstadt, 2015

In 2005, Giddens, who at that time was spending time competing in Scottish music competitions,[4] attended the Black Banjo Then and Now Gathering, in Boone, North Carolina. There she met Dom Flemons and Sule Greg Wilson. The three started playing together professionally as a "postmodern string band", Sankofa Strings.[5] During that same time period, Giddens was also a regular caller at local contra dances and featured in a Celtic music band called Gaelwynd. Later in 2005, after both Gaelwynd and Sankofa Strings had released CD albums, Giddens and Flemons teamed up with other musicians and expanded the Sankofa Strings sound into what was to become the Grammy winning Carolina Chocolate Drops.

In 2007, Giddens contributed fiddle, banjo, "flat-footin'" dancing and additional vocals to Talitha MacKenzie's album Indian Summer.

Performing as a soprano, Giddens and mezzo-soprano Cheryse McLeod Lewis formed a duo called Eleganza to release a CD in 2009. Because I Knew You... consists of classical, religious, theater, and movie music. Giddens and Lewis were middle school classmates who reconnected after college while working in the same office. The friends started singing together in 2003, but did not begin recording until 2008.[6]

As of November 12, 2013, Giddens is now the only original member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops.[7]

In 2013 Giddens began pushing further into her solo career. Giddens participated in "Another Day, Another Time", a concert inspired by the Coen brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis.[8] Many critics have stated that Giddens had the best performance at what was called "the concert of the year".[9][10] Late in 2013, Giddens contributed the standout a cappella track "We Rise" to the LP We Are Not For Sale: Songs of Protest by the NC Music Love Army - a collective of activist musicians from North Carolina founded by Jon Lindsay and Caitlin Cary.[11] Giddens' protest song joins contributions from many other Carolina musical luminaries on the Lindsay-produced compilation (11/26/13 via Redeye Distribution), which was created to support the NC NAACP and the Moral Monday movement.[12]

In early 2014 Giddens recorded for Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes alongside Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, Taylor Goldsmith and Jim James. The album was produced by T-Bone Burnett and is a compilation of partial, unreleased lyrics written by Bob Dylan.[13]

In February 2015, Giddens released her debut solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, on Nonesuch Records. Also produced by Burnett, the album includes songs made famous by Patsy Cline, Odetta, Dolly Parton, and Nina Simone, among others.[9][14] The Wall Street Journal said the album "confirms the arrival of a significant talent whose voice and distinctive approach communicate the simmering emotion at the core of the songs."[15] Additionally, the Los Angeles Times called the album "a collection that should solidify her status as one of the bright new lights in pop music."[16]

In July 2015, she had a big stage at world music folk and dance festival at TFF Rudolstadt in Germany.[17] Her performance was also broadcast live by the German national public radio Deutschlandfunk.[18] Rhiannon appears on Jon Lindsay's single "Ballad of Lennon Lacy" (Redeye Distribution, August 21). The song tackles the mysterious hanging death of Lennon Lacy, a black teen from rural Bladenboro, North Carolina. The case is currently under investigation by the FBI, and widely suspected to be a lynching.[19]

On November 27, 2015, to coincide with the Black Friday Record Store Day event, Giddens released Factory Girl (EP) on Nonesuch Records, which contained music culled from the same T Bone Burnett-produced sessions that yielded Tomorrow Is My Turn.[20] A digital version of Factory Girl was made available December 11, 2015. The sessions for the album and EP took place in Los Angeles and Nashville, with a multi-generational group of players assembled by Burnett. Musicians on Factory Girl include Burnett; fiddle player Gabe Witcher and double bassist Paul Kowert of Punch Brothers; percussionist Jack Ashford of Motown's renowned Funk Brothers; drummer Jay Bellerose; guitarist Colin Linden; veteran Nashville session bassist Dennis Crouch; and Giddens's Carolina Chocolate Drops touring band-mates, multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins and beat-boxer Adam Matta.

Rhiannon appeared on Jools Holland's Hootenanny on December 31, 2015, shown on BBC Two. She performed songs from her 2015 album Tomorrow Is My Turn, including "Waterboy" and a cover of "St James Infirmary Blues" with Tom Jones.

She was selected to take part in Transatlantic Sessions in January 2016. This collaboration between American and Celtic musicians is a coveted honor. The ensemble performed as part of Celtic Connections in Glasgow, and a short UK/Irish tour. Her performances on the tour included the stirring tribute to David Bowie "It Ain't Easy". Later in the year, Giddens became the first American to be honoured as Folk Singer of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Later in the year, it was also announced that she would be receiving the prestigious Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Winning this award makes Giddens both the only woman and the only person of color to receive the prize in its six-year history.[21] In 2016, it was also announced that Giddens and the Carolina Chocolate Drops would be inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.[22]

In 2017, Giddens became only the fourth musician to perform at both the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals.[23] Later that year, she delivered the keynote address at the World of Bluegrass Business Conference 2017.[24] According to Bluegrass Today, "Giddens shattered long-held stereotypes...By the time she was done, she had systematically dismantled the myth of a homogenous Appalachia." [25] In June 2017, Giddens appeared in the multi award-winning documentary The American Epic Sessions, directed by Bernard MacMahon, where she recorded "One Hour Mama" and English folk ballad "Pretty Saro", on the restored first electrical sound recording system from the 1920s.[26] Both performances were released on Music from The American Epic Sessions: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.[27] Upon hearing the playback of these direct-to-disc recordings recordings, she exclaimed "you feel like your soul is coming out of the speaker."[27]

In October 2017, Giddens was named one of the 2017 class of MacArthur "Genius" Fellows. The organization noted, "Giddens's drive to understand and convey the nuances, complexities, and interrelationships between musical traditions is enhancing our musical present with a wealth of sounds and textures from the past." [28] Rhiannon further demonstrated the broad range of her musical interests with several subsequent projects. In early November, she performed as a soprano with the Louisville Orchestra in Teddy Abrams' multimedia tribute to Muhammad Ali, The Greatest.[29] A week later, she sang with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra for their live recording of American Originals: 1918, which explored the early development of jazz during the post WWI era.[30] In January 2018, Giddens co-produced (with Dirk Powell) Songs of Our Native Daughters for Smithsonian Folkways. Written and recorded with fellow artists Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell, "The album confronts the ways we are culturally conditioned to avoid talking about America's history of slavery, racism, and misogyny." [31] Also in early 2018, the Nashville Ballet announced that Rhiannon Giddens has been commissioned to write the music for Lucy Negro, Redux, a new dance choreographed by artistic director, Paul Vasterling. Based on the book of the same name by Caroline Randall Williams, its premise is that Shakespeare's Dark Lady was of African descent. The ballet premiered in February 2019.[32] Then in March 2018, Giddens fulfilled a previously announced engagement as guest curator for the Cambridge Folk Festival by inviting Peggy Seeger, Kaia Kater, Birds of Chicago, Amythyst Kiah, and Yola Carter to perform at the event.[33]

Giddens recorded vocals for Silo Songs, an audio installation created by composer Brad Wells for Hancock Shaker Village. She contributed a song, "See The Fire In Your Eyes", to the popular video game Red Dead Redemption 2 which was released in October 2018. The song was written with Daniel Lanois. Beginning in December 2018, she is hosting a podcast called Aria Code with Rhiannon Giddens produced by the Metropolitan Opera and WQXR-FM. The program examines why individual arias have a lasting impact on audiences and how singers prepare to perform them.[34]


In 2017 and 2018, she appeared in the fifth and sixth seasons of the CMT's Nashville as Hannah Lee "Hallie" Jordan, a social worker with the voice of an angel.[35] Hallie is a significant character in Juliette's storyline. To date, Giddens has appeared in 11 episodes and has performed several songs that have been made available following each episode.

Personal life

Giddens is multiracial in ancestry.[36] Giddens' father was European-American and her mother was African-American and Native American.[37] Her sister Lalenja Harrington is a director for Beyond Academics, a four-year certificate program supporting students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. A singer and songwriter herself, Harrington occasionally collaborates with her sister on musical projects.[38]

Giddens married Irish musician Michael Laffan in 2007;[39] they have a daughter and a son,[40] however they are now separated.[41] She has homes in Greensboro, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; and Limerick, Ireland.

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Nominated Work Work
2010 Americana Music Awards Duo/Group of the Year Carolina Chocolate Drops Nominated
2011 Grammy Awards Best Traditional Folk Album Genuine Negro Jig Won
2012 Americana Music Awards Duo/Group of the Year Carolina Chocolate Drops Nominated
2013 Grammy Awards Best Folk Album Leaving Eden Nominated
2015 Americana Music Awards Album of the Year Tomorrow Is My Turn Nominated
Artist of the Year Rhiannon Giddens Nominated
2016 Grammy Awards Best Folk Album Tomorrow Is My Turn Nominated
International Folk Music Awards Album of the Year Tomorrow Is My Turn Won
BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Folk Singer of the Year Rhiannon Giddens Won
Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass N/A Rhiannon Giddens Won
North Carolina Music Hall of Fame Induction Rhiannon Giddens and the Carolina Chocolate Drops Won
2017 Grammy Awards Best American Roots Performance "Factory Girl" Nominated
Best Folk Album "Factory Girl" Nominated
Living Blues Awards Critics Poll Blues Artist of the Year (Female) Rhiannon Giddens Won
Americana Music Awards Album of the Year Freedom Highway Nominated
Country Music Association Awards Musical Event of the Year Kill a Word (with Eric Church) Nominated
MacArthur Fellowship Won
2018 International Folk Music Awards Album of the Year Freedom Highway Won
Songlines Music Awards Americas Freedom Highway Won
Living Blues Awards New Recordings (Traditional & Acoustic) Freedom Highway Won


As Carolina Chocolate Drops

Title Album details Peak chart positions
US US Grass US Folk US Heat
Dona Got a Ramblin' Mind
  • Release date: September 12, 2006
  • Label: Music Maker
-- -- -- --
The Great Debaters Soundtrack
(with Alvin Youngblood Hart, Sharon Jones and Teenie Hodges)
  • Release date: December 11, 2007
  • Label: Atlantic
-- -- -- --
  • Release date: February 18, 2008
  • Label: Dixiefrog
-- -- -- --
Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson
(recorded live at MerleFest, April 25, 2008)
  • Release date: May 26, 2009
  • Label: Music Maker
-- -- -- --
Genuine Negro Jig
  • Release date: February 16, 2010
  • Label: Nonesuch
150 1 2 2
Carolina Chocolate Drops/Luminescent Orchestrii EP
  • Release date: January 25, 2011
  • Label: Nonesuch
-- 3 11 32
Leaving Eden
  • Release date: February 24, 2012
  • Label: Nonesuch
123 1 6 2
"--" denotes releases that did not chart

As Gaelwynd

  • Out On the Ocean: Music of the British Isles (2004)
  • Northern Lights (2005)

As The New Basement Tapes

As Rhiannon Giddens

As Our Native Daughters

  • Songs of Our Native Daughters (2019)

Additional Collaborations

  • As Sankofa Strings, Colored Aristocracy (2005)
  • As Elftones & Rhiannon Giddens, All The Pretty Horses (2009)
  • As Laurelyn Dossett, Rhiannon Giddens, Eric Robertson & Bennett Sullivan, The Music Of Beautiful Star (2009)
  • As Eleganza, Because I Knew You... (2009)
  • As Mike Compton, Laurelyn Dossett, Rhiannon Giddens, Joe Newberry, Jason Sypher,The Gathering (2011)
  • As The Giddens Sisters, I Know I've Been Changed (2013)


See Nashville discography Seasons Five and Six for songs performed by Hallie Jordan (played by Rhiannon Giddens)

Other significant appearances (lead, duet, trio, featured solo)

  • "Dreamland" and "Clothes of My Man", Sonic New York (Sxip Shirey) (2010)
  • "Brightest and Best", "Christ Child Lullaby", "A Babe is Born All of a Maid", and "Down in Yon Forest", The Winter Moon (Immigrant's Daughter) (2010)
  • "Lay Your Money Down", Shamrock City (Solas) (2012)
  • "Outside Man Blues", Yes We Can (An Apple A Day) (2013)
  • "The Vanishing Race", Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited (Various Artists) (2014)
  • "Now To Conclude Our Christmas Mirth", "Christmas Day Is Come", and "The Enniscorthy Christmas Carol", The Wexford Carols (Caitríona O'Leary album) (Caitríona O'Leary) (2014)
  • "Waterboy", "'S iomadh rud tha dhìth orm / Ciamar a nì mi 'n dannsa dìreach", and "Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby", Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis (Various Artists) (concert recorded live September 29, 2013, album released January 2015)
  • "Up In Arms", Rhythm & Reason (Bhi Bhiman) (2015)
  • "Julie" and "Cluck Old Hen", Tunes from David Holt's State of Music (Various Artists) (2015)
  • "Ballad of Lennon Lacy" (single) (Jon Lindsay with Rhiannon Giddens and NC Music Love Army) (2015)
  • "Kill a Word", Mr. Misunderstood (Eric Church) (2015)
  • "The Good Fight", Real Midnight (Birds of Chicago) (2016)
  • "St. James Infirmary Blues", Sing Me Home (Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble) (2016)
  • "Manman", A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey (Leyla McCalla) (2016)
  • "Come Sunday" and "Rocks in My Bed", American Tunes (Allen Toussaint) (2016)
  • "Woman of Constant Sorrow", "Just Drive By, Firefly", and "Bach, Stevie Wonder and Janelle Monae", A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees (Sxip Shirey) (2017)
  • "West End Blues (Live)" and "Shake Sugaree", Tunes from David Holt's State of Music 2 (Various Artists) (2017)
  • "One Hour Mama" and "Pretty Saro", Music from The American Epic Sessions (Various Artists) (2017)
  • "Factory Girl" and "Lullaby", Folk Songs (Kronos Quartet) (2017)
  • "So Pretty", For Lenny (Lara Downes) (2018)
  • "My Baby Likes Bacon" and "Mansell's Waltz", Hopes & Dreams: The Lullaby Project (Various Artists) (2018)
  • "I'm Just Wild About Harry", "I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle", "Swing Along", and "I Ain't Got Nobody", American Originals: 1918 (Cincinnati Pops Orchestra) (2018)
  • "Dream Variation", Holes In The Sky (Lara Downes) (2019)
  • "See The Fire In Your Eyes", Red Dead Redemption 2 -- Original Game Soundtrack (Various Artists) (due Spring 2019)
  • "The May Morning Dew", The Great Irish Songbook (Dervish (band)) (due April 12, 2019)


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  2. ^ Tomlinson, Tommy (September 2, 2015). "Rhiannon Giddens & The Making of NC's Most Beautiful Voice". Our State Celebrating North Carolina. Retrieved .
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  13. ^ Grow, Kory (2014-03-25). "Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, Jim James Record 'Lost' Dylan Lyrics The project, 'Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes,' will come out in the fall". Rolling Stone. Retrieved .
  14. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens, of Carolina Chocolate Drops, to Release Solo Debut Album "Tomorrow Is My Turn," Produced by T Bone Burnett, February 10". Nonesuch.com. November 19, 2014. Retrieved .
  15. ^ "Music review: Rhiannon Giddens in Resolute Voice". WSJ. 2015-02-10. Retrieved .
  16. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens discovers true calling with help from friends". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved .
  17. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens at Heinepark Stage 3 July 2015". TFF Rudolstadt. Retrieved 2015.
  18. ^ "Rudolstadt-Festival - das größte Folk-Roots-Weltmusik-Festival Deutschlands - Rudolstadt-Festival 6. - 9. Juli 2017". Tff-rudolstadt.de. Retrieved .
  19. ^ Devores, Courtney (2015-08-07). "Charlotte songwriter 'obsessed' with teen death case". Charlotte Observer. Retrieved .
  20. ^ "Nonesuch to Release Rhiannon Giddens's EP "Factory Girl" for Black Friday Record Store Day, November 27 | Nonesuch Records". Nonesuch.com. Retrieved .
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  22. ^ "2016 INDUCTION CEREMONY : List of Inductees". Northcarolinamusichalloffame.org. Retrieved .
  23. ^ Gibbs, Ryan. "5 must-see acts at the 2017 Newport Jazz Festival". Newport Mercury. Retrieved .
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  27. ^ a b "Album review: Various Artists, American Epic: The Sessions (Columbia/Lo-Max)". HeraldScotland. Retrieved .
  28. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens - MacArthur Foundation". Macfound.org. Retrieved .
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  30. ^ Baker, Brian. "Review: 'American Originals' a Great Success". citybeat.com. Retrieved .
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  32. ^ Stumpfl, Amy. "Nashville Ballet celebrates 'Big Ideas' and major milestones with 2018-19 season". www.tennessean.com. Retrieved .
  33. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens Selects Artists for Cambridge Folk Festival". nonesuch.com. 2018-03-04. Retrieved .
  34. ^ "Welcome to Aria Code with Rhiannon Giddens". www.wnycstudios.org. Retrieved .
  35. ^ Betts, Stephen L. (2016-09-02). "Rhiannon Giddens to Join the Cast of 'Nashville'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved .
  36. ^ Gil de Rubio, Dave (2015-04-15). "Rhiannon Giddens Doesn't Need No Stinking Labels". Long Island Weekly. Retrieved .
  37. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens: Pure Folk-Music Fire From 'A Good-Ol' Mixed Race North Carolinian'". Indian Country Today. Retrieved .
  38. ^ Ian McDowell, Not just a Giddens sister: Lalenja Harrington sings out, educates and inspires, Yes! Weekly, April 24, 2018
  39. ^ "Honeymoon Couple". Talitha Mackenzie. Retrieved .
  40. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens & The Making of NC's Most Beautiful Voice". Our State. Retrieved .
  41. ^ "Blues star Rhiannon Giddens on her Irish ex and how Trump inspired action". Extra.ie. Retrieved .

Further reading

External links

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