Rhiannon Giddens

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Rhiannon Giddens
Rhiannon Giddens with banjo
Background information
Born (1977-02-21) February 21, 1977 (age 40)
Greensboro, North Carolina, United States
Genres Folk, bluegrass, country, gospel, blues, jazz, soul, R&B, Celtic, Americana
Instruments Vocals, Violin, Banjo
Years active 2005–present
Labels Music Maker, Nonesuch
Associated acts Carolina Chocolate Drops, The New Basement Tapes, NC Music Love Army
Website rhiannongiddens.com
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 and a 2000 graduate of Oberlin Conservatory where she studied opera.[2] 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[edit]

Rhiannon Giddens
at Rudolstadt, 2015

In 2005, Giddens, who at that time was spending time competing in Scottish music competitions,[3] 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.[4] 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.

As of November 12, 2013, Giddens is now the only original member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops still an active member of the group.[5]

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.[6] Many critics have stated that Giddens had the best performance at what was called "the concert of the year".[7][8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11]

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.[7][12] 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."[13] 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."[14]

In July 2015, she had a big stage at world music folk and dance festival at TFF Rudolstadt in Germany.[15] Her performance was also broadcast live by the German national public radio Deutschlandfunk.[16] 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.[17]

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.[18] 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 6-year history.[19] In 2016, it was also announced that Giddens and the Carolina Chocolate Drops would be inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.[20]


She is set to appear in the fifth season of the CMT's Nashville as Hannah Lee "Hallie" Jordan, a social worker with the voice of an angel.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Giddens is biracial in ancestry.[22] She married Irish musician Michael Laffan in 2007.[23] The couple have a daughter, Aoife, and a son, Caoimhín.[24] Giddens has homes in Greensboro, North Carolina and Limerick, Ireland.[25]

Awards and nominations[edit]

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
2015 Americana Music Awards Artist of the Year Rhiannon Giddens Nominated
2016 Grammy Awards Best Folk Album Tomorrow Is My Turn Nominated
2016 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Folk Singer of the Year Rhiannon Giddens Won
2016 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass N/A Rhiannon Giddens Won
2016 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
2017 Grammy Awards Best Folk Album "Factory Girl" Nominated


As Carolina Chocolate Drops[edit]

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[edit]

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

As Rhiannon Giddens & Elftones[edit]

  • All The Pretty Horses (2009)

As Laurelyn Dossett, Rhiannon Giddens, Eric Robertson & Bennett Sullivan[edit]

  • The Music Of Beautiful Star (2009)

As Eleganza[edit]

  • Because I Knew You (2009)

As Mike Compton, Laurelyn Dossett, Rhiannon Giddens, Joe Newberry, Jason Sypher[edit]

  • The Gathering (2011)

As The Giddens Sisters[edit]

  • I Know I've Been Changed (2013)

As The New Basement Tapes[edit]

  • Lost On The River (2014)

As Rhiannon Giddens[edit]

Other appearances[edit]

  • "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)
  • "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)


  1. ^ "Grammy.com". Retrieved 28 October 2013. 
  2. ^ Menconi, David (Spring 2011). "Creating Old-Time Music for the 21st Century". Oberlin Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  3. ^ http://nodepression.com/article/carolina-chocolate-drops-digging-back-driving-forward, April 30, 2008, accessed July 6, 2016
  4. ^ http://clclt.com/charlotte/sankofa-strings/Content?oid=2141147, October 12, 2005, accessed July 6, 2016
  5. ^ "Carolina Chocolate Drops' Fan Bridge Newsletter". fanbridge.com. Retrieved 2013-11-12. 
  6. ^ "Another Day, Another Time". Retrieved 23 April 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Pareles, Jon (September 30, 2013). "Traditional Folk Frolic, With Old-Time Fervor and Youthful Yelps". The New York Times. Retrieved February 7, 2015. 
  8. ^ Rosen, Christopher. "5 Memorable Moments From The 'Inside Llewyn Davis' Concert, 'Another Day, Another Time'". The Huffington Post. 
  9. ^ "nc music love army". 
  10. ^ Yahoo News Feature: NC Music Love Army
  11. ^ Grow, Kory. "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 23 April 2014. 
  12. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens, of Carolina Chocolate Drops, to Release Solo Debut Album "Tomorrow Is My Turn," Produced by T Bone Burnett, February 10". Nonesuch. November 19, 2014. Retrieved 2015-06-11. 
  13. ^ Fusilli, Jim (February 20, 2015). "Rhiannon Giddens in Resolute Voice". 
  14. ^ Lewis, Randy (December 27, 2104). "Rhiannon Giddens discovers true calling with help from friends".  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  15. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens at Heinepark Stage 3 July 2015". TFF Rudolstadt. Retrieved 3 July 2015. 
  16. ^ "TFF15 in Radio + TV". Retrieved 3 July 2015. 
  17. ^ "Charlotte songwriter 'obsessed' with teen death case". charlotteobserver. 
  18. ^ }"Nonesuch to Release Rhiannon Giddens's EP "Factory Girl" for Black Friday Record Store Day, November 27". October 20, 2015. 
  19. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens Brings Diversity to Banjo Award". 12 September 2016 – via The New York Times. 
  20. ^ "2016 Induction Ceremony - North Carolina Music Hall Of Fame". 
  21. ^ "Americana Powerhouse Rhiannon Giddens to Join the Cast of 'Nashville'". 
  22. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens Doesn't Need No Stinking Labels". Long Island Weekly. Retrieved 2016-05-12. 
  23. ^ "Honeymoon Couple". Talitha Mackenzie. Retrieved 2016-01-01. 
  24. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens & The Making of NC's Most Beautiful Voice". Our State. Retrieved 2016-01-01. 
  25. ^ "Rhiannon Giddens to perform at National Folk Festival". Greensboro News & Record. Retrieved 2016-01-01. 

Further reading[edit]

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