Rhiannon Giddens stands looking over her left shoulder wearing a colorful blue and orange dress.
The Spark

The Spark with Tift Merritt: Rhiannon Giddens

Virtual Event
September 23, 2021
7:30 PM

 Registration for this event closes at 6:30 PM EDT on Thursday, September 23, 2021. Available on-demand for all ticketholders for 72 hours, beginning on Thursday, September 23, 2021 at 7:30 PM EDT. Suggested ticket donation (per household) is $15. Tickets available starting at $0.

Join us for The Spark with Tift Merritt, featuring award-winning artist Rhiannon Giddens, who begins her three-year artist residency with Carolina Performing Arts in spring 2022 as part of the Southern Futures initiative at CPA.

In this livestreamed series, Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter and UNC alumna Tift Merritt returns to Carolina Performing Arts to take us behind the scenes in artist-to-artist video interviews that delve deep into the creative process. 

Award-winning artist Rhiannon Giddens uses her art to excavate the past and reveal bold truths about our present. A MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, Giddens has a lifelong mission 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.” 

Among her many diverse career highlights, Giddens has performed for the Obamas at the White House and was named the artistic director of Silkroad in 2020. She is currently writing Omar, a new opera co-commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts and Spoleto Festival USA centered on the untold story of Charleston and the American South. She first performed at CPA in 2016. 

How do you light a spark? How do you make something true? How does art happen? What is mumbled on the way in the studio and how can we hear it? 

Welcome to The Spark.

Tift Merritt

Runtime: approximately 60 minutes. Recording of CPA virtual events is not permitted. If you have questions or concerns related to accessibility, please contact us. You can also check out our livestream events guide

Special Thanks


H. Stewart Parker

The Spark with Tift Merritt logo

About The Spark

Based on the series Merritt produced for the acclaimed Marfa, Texas Public Radio, The Spark peels back the polished performance to reveal the elbow grease, risk, fire, and courage behind the art—and artists—we think we know. Each month, Tift will welcome a new artist for a 45-minute livestreamed conversation that gets to the heart of their work, followed by a 15-minute audience Q&A.

About the Artists

Artist Rhiannon Giddens poses wearing a black dress with feathers around the collar against a burnt orange background.

About Rhiannon Giddens

Acclaimed musician Rhiannon Giddens is “an electrifying artist who brings alive the memories of forgotten predecessors, white and black” (Smithsonian Magazine). Her newest album, They’re Calling Me Home, is a twelve-track album, recorded with Francesco 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.

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Among her many diverse career highlights, Giddens 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 co-commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts and Spoleto USA Festival. 

Artist Tift Merritt looks to the side with a slight smile.

About Tift Merritt

Tift Merritt wanted to be a writer until her father taught her guitar chords and Percy Sledge songs. In her 20-year career, she has toured around the world with her sonic short stories and garnered a reputation for making her own way and setting an interesting artistic table. The New Yorker calls her “the bearer of a proud tradition of distaff country soul that reaches back to artists like Dusty Springfield and Bobbie Gentry.” Emmylou Harris calls her “a diamond in a coal mine.”

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Taking time off the road to raise her daughter, Merritt began work on forthcoming site-specific projects by way of collecting objects at an old motel and an abandoned asylum as forgotten, essential language.  Merritt collects artist interviews about process and integrity on The Spark for Carolina Performing Arts. She lives in North Carolina with her daughter, Jean.

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