UNC Greensboro alumna Rhiannon Giddens was selected to perform at Greensboro’s inaugural National Folk Festival in 2015. This week, she returns to Greensboro as special guest curator at the inaugural North Carolina Folk Festival.
She worked with the festival’s director this year to line up and invite select performers.
Giddens, who was a Grammy recipient as part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and a recent recipient of the MacArthur “genius” grant, is a highly regarded figure in Americana “roots” music. Through her music she explores the rich history behind songs, particularly the African American experience.
She will perform at the Songs of Hope and Justice concert Thursday evening, before the festival officially starts. That concert, organized by UNCG alumnus Laurelyn Dossett, will be held in the Van Dyke Performance Space, named for the late, beloved UNCG dance professor and alumna Jan Van Dyke ’89 EdD.
On Friday evening, Giddens will lead an evening of jazz, spoken word and tap dance at the Wells Fargo Lawn Stage. Lalenja Harrington, a UNCG alumnus and director of Academic Program Development and Evaluation for the Integrative Community Studies Certificate program, who’s Giddens’ sister, will be a part of that event. On Saturday, Giddens will take part in two special events about banjo history and traditions, as well as one on the roots of American dance, before giving an evening concert with her band (including Harrington).
On Sunday, she leads a special event recalling “dance off” informal competitions of the 19th century. It’s called “Historic Dance Offs: An Improv Interplay between Banjo and Dance.”
She then comes to UNCG Monday night as part of a post-festival discussion with Dr. Omar Ali and multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. They’ll discuss how African Americans have shaped musical traditions here and are the products of multiple traditions, including Muslim-influenced cultures and people from across the world.
In her visit to UNCG last fall, she took time to speak with students at a masterclass, before an evening concert.
“I’m here to talk about crafting your career,” she told the School of Music students.
And she spoke of her start: At UNCG, she’d been a voice student in the master’s program. She sang in operas directed by David Holley – she even choreographed the square dance in one opera. She’d become immersed in contra dancing and, through that, she discovered the fiddle and banjo and excelled at them. She was in a Celtic band before co-founding the old-time Carolina Chocolate Drops. She now has produced two albums of her own and has pushed her career forward, as a musical entrepreneur and artist.
A big question? “What makes your heart sing?” It’s what do you want to do, not what should you do, she told the Spartan students. Whatever that is, you are your own boss. It’s your career.
Story by Mike Harris, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications