On the Beat

Roots music star Rhiannon Giddens mentors a new generation

Carolina Chocolate Drops co-founder Rhiannon Giddens has as high a profile as anyone in roots music these days. But she can still find time to be a mentor to younger musicians.

Thursday afternoon found Giddens at the Nashville home of Uma and Giri Peters, ages 9 and 11. Two kids of Indian descent, Uma and Giri kind of stole the show at last week’s World of Bluegrass in Raleigh – most notably at the Sept. 27 “Shout & Shine” diversity showcase.

After reading a story where the Peters’ mother said that the Chocolate Drops had inspired Uma to take up banjo, Giddens arranged a visit. It was equal parts jam session, private teaching clinic and history lesson by the reigning Steve Martin Banjo Prize winner.

“She was here about two hours and gave them a lot of perspective about the history behind the music and the banjo,” said Sarika Peters. “She talked a lot about Joe Thompson, the fiddler – ‘I’m gonna teach you guys “John Henry” the way Joe taught it to me.’ You could see the wheels turning. They were getting it.”

They also worked on some songs from the Chocolate Drops’ repertoire, including “Cornbread and Butterbeans” and “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?” Sarika Peters said the experience left both her and her children “in awe.”

“What amazes me about this world is how people of the highest caliber of musicianship have been the nicest to Giri and Uma,” she said. “Rhiannon said that had been her experience, too — people at the top had helped her along the most. And she has a real passion for passing the music on the way it was passed down to her. She asked if they danced, they said no and she said, ‘I hope you don’t give up on that because dancing’s a big part of the music.’”

Giddens is scheduled to be back in Nashville in November, and Sarika Peters said that she wants to meet up with Uma and Giri then, too.

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi

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