Rhiannon Giddens

Southern Futures

An award-winning musician focused on discovering and sharing cultural artifacts and local histories

Beginning in spring 2022, GRAMMY and MacArthur Award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens joins CPA in a three-year research residency at the core of Southern Futures. Giddens will focus on discovering and sharing cultural artifacts and local histories that challenge entrenched narratives and monolithic thinking on topics central to Southern Futures.

To date, Giddens has used her residency with CPA to explore the unique offerings across campus, conducting primary source research in the Southern Historic Collection at Wilson Library, developing relationships with faculty thought partners, and building connections with local communities through campus organizations like the American Indian Center. Giddens hopes to discover first-hand, historical accounts from BIPOC individuals and moments where cross-cultural pollination can be seen in the University’s special collections. Through her research and conversations, Giddens will contribute to a better and more truthful understanding of what life was like in and around North Carolina at the turn of the 20th century.  

“Access to our past via research, writings, archival recordings, and beyond is an integral part of this,” said Giddens. “Highlighting stories untold and voices unheard, my aim is to celebrate the cultural contributions of those who came before us in my art and to bring to light the impact of Black and Indigenous populations that resided in Chapel Hill.”

About Rhiannon Giddens

The acclaimed musician Rhiannon Giddens uses her art to excavate the past and reveal bold truths about our present. A MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, Giddens co-founded the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, and she has been nominated for six additional Grammys for her work as a soloist and collaborator. She was most recently nominated for her collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, “there is no Other” (2019). Giddens’s forthcoming album, “They’re Calling Me Home”, is a 12-track album, recorded with Turrisi in Ireland during the recent lockdown; it speaks of the longing for the comfort of home as well as the metaphorical “call home” of death, which has been a tragic reality for so many during the COVID-19 crisis.  

more about rhiannon

Giddens’s lifelong mission is to lift up people whose contributions to American musical history have previously been erased, and to work toward a more accurate understanding of the country’s musical origins. Pitchfork has said of her work, “few artists are so fearless and so ravenous in their exploration,” and Smithsonian Magazine calls her “an electrifying artist who brings alive the memories of forgotten predecessors, white and black.”

Among her many diverse career highlights, Giddens has performed for the Obamas at the White House, served as a Carnegie Hall Perspectives curator, and received an inaugural Legacy of Americana Award from Nashville’s National Museum of African American History in partnership with the Americana Music Association. Her critical acclaim includes in-depth profiles by CBS “Sunday Morning,” the New York Times, the New Yorker, and NPR’s “Fresh Air,” among many others. 

Giddens is featured in Ken Burns’s “Country Music” series, which aired on PBS in 2019, where she speaks about the African American origins of country music. She is also a member of the band Our Native Daughters with three other black female banjo players, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell, and Amythyst Kiah, and co-produced their debut album “Songs of Our Native Daughters” (2019), which tells stories of historic black womanhood and survival. 

Named Artistic Director of Silkroad in 2020, Giddens is developing a number of new programs for the organization, including one inspired by the history of the American transcontinental railroad and the cultures and music of its builders. She recently wrote the music for an original ballet, Lucy Negro Redux, for Nashville Ballet (premiered in 2019), and the libretto and music for an original opera, Omar, based on the autobiography of the enslaved man Omar Ibn Said for the Spoleto USA Festival (premiered in 2022) and Carolina Performing Arts (spring 2023).

As an actor, Giddens had a featured role on the television series “Nashville.”

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