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Mon, 02.21.1977

Rhiannon Giddens, Folk Musician born

Rhiannon Giddens

*Rhiannon Giddens was born on this date in 1977.  She is a Black Folk musician, composer, singer, and bandleader.  

Giddens is a native of Greensboro, North Carolina.  Her white-European-American father (David Giddens) and her Black and Native-American mother (Deborah Jamieson) met as college students in Greensboro. She and her sister grew up in nearby rural Gibsonville.  Giddens is an alumna of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and a 2000 graduate of Oberlin Conservatory at Oberlin College, where she studied opera.  

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. Harrington, a singer, and songwriter, occasionally collaborates with her sister on musical projects.   

She is a founding member of the country, blues, and old-time music band Carolina Chocolate Drops, where she is the lead singer, fiddle player, and banjo player.  In addition to her work with the Grammy-winning Chocolate Drops, Giddens has released two solo albums: Tomorrow Is My Turn (2015) and Freedom Highway (2017). Her latest album, There Is No Other (2019), is a collaboration with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. She appears in the Smithsonian Folkways collection documenting Mike Seeger's final trip through Appalachia in 2009, Just Around The Bend: Survival and Revival in Southern Banjo Styles – Mike Seeger’s Last Documentary (2019).  In 2014, she participated in the T Bone Burnett-produced project titled The New Basement Tapes and several other musicians, which set a series of recently discovered Bob Dylan lyrics to newly composed music.  

Giddens married Irish musician Michael Laffan in 2007.  They have a daughter born in 2009 and a son born in 2013; however, they had separated as of 2018.  In 2019, Giddens was in a relationship with her musical partner Francesco Turrisi.  They released an album in May 2019, and as of 2020, they were still in a relationship and touring together.  She has homes in Greensboro, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; and Limerick, Ireland. 

For the 2020 Spoleto Festival USA, Giddens was commissioned to create an opera based on the autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, an enslaved Muslim-African man brought to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1807.  Giddens wrote the libretto and served as a lead composer with help from co-composer Michael Abels. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world premiere of Omar was postponed until 2021. In July 2020, Giddens was named Artistic Director of the cross-cultural music organization Silkroad (arts organization). The position had been vacant since 2017 when Silkroad's founder, Yo-Yo Ma, stepped down.  

On August 17, 2020, Giddens guest-hosted the BBC Radio 2 Blues Show while its regular host Cerys Matthews was on holiday.  Giddens earned an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for her lasting impact on the UNCG community and her work in music. She sang "Calling me Home" by Alice Gerrard at a virtual commencement after accepting the degree in December 2020.  

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