Editorials

Rhiannon Giddens’ genius, literally

Rhiannon Giddens opens IBMA’s World of Bluegrass with powerful speech on diversity in bluegrass

American musician Rhiannon Giddens, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, delivered a powerful keynote speech at the Raleigh Convention Center to kick off IBMA's World of Bluegrass on Tuesday Sept. 26, 2017. She declared that the question toda
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American musician Rhiannon Giddens, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, delivered a powerful keynote speech at the Raleigh Convention Center to kick off IBMA's World of Bluegrass on Tuesday Sept. 26, 2017. She declared that the question toda

Rhiannon Giddens will look back on 2017 as, so the song goes, “a very good year.”

And then some.

The Greensboro native, 40, is a big star in music, primarily bluegrass, with a powerful, wide-ranging voice and a gift for violin and banjo. Such a gift, in fact, that she won the 2016 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo, named for the actor, comedian and banjo player who endowed the gift. And she’s a Grammy award-winner as well, who recently gave a keynote address for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s gathering in Raleigh.

Many’s the audience member, having watched her sing and play multiple instruments and heard her self-penned songs related to the history of slaves, who’s said, “You know, she’s really a genius.”

Turns out, there’s literal agreement on that. Giddens now has been named a MacArthur Fellow, a title coming from a foundation of the same name and with a no-strings-attached award of $625,000. The prizes sometimes are called “Genius Grants.” Giddens will use the prize, she says, to “let me live a little bit” and perhaps not be on the road with her music quite as much. She’s a writer and contemplates artistic projects outside the boundaries of music and the like.

So Giddens picks up yet another prestigious award, but she’s not ho-humming. Her drive, her determination – reasons that every award she’s gotten has been deserved.

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