For anyone riding the tide of Americana, folk, “roots,” string, mountain, or whatever vernacular appeals to those who have known this music from the time it was a trickle in a stream, Rhiannon Giddens is a known wonder of a woman as artist. She is being revealed to new ears, eyes, and souls since her 2013 sensational splash at the Another Day, Another Time concert event celebrating Inside Llewyn Davis, and release of her first solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, in February. Her performances and insights shared on April 25 only serve to show that her glow isn't dimming anytime soon.
“I knew coming in I wasn't a monster instrumentalist,” Giddens says with complete, self-effacing believability of being recruited for The New Basement Tapes project by T Bone Burnett, yet her credibility in musicianship is unmistakable on her minstrel banjo and fiddle style as founder of The Carolina Chocolate Drops, not to mention a “rangy soprano” that glides with ease from classical to gospel, and anything soul in between. “Anything that starts with Shirley Caesar, and ends with Aretha Franklin is all right in my book,” Rhiannon reiterates following her recent White House performance to be broadcast on PBS in June. Her catalog also reflects her sustained reverence for influences like Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline. The Lost on the River project made her a revelation to many, and birthed a collaborative relationship of trust and respect between her and Burnett, who she always refers to now as “my fairy godfather.” Above and beyond his highly extolled virtues as producer, Giddens praises that Burnett “creates a great situation for you, but you have to take it. I never knew that's what I needed.”
Giddens earned a degree from the Oberlin Conservatory in 2000, and her talents are vast enough to sail her to the heights in opera, but the working mom of two young children, ages 2 and 6, can’t be constrained by “the world surrounding it” because it cages in her spirit. “I want to be barefoot onstage,” Rhiannon stresses, adding she wants control of her own career, too, and “in the folk world, it's easier to have control from the beginning. I couldn't stand the politics in opera.” It's easy to see that political pressures or any other stresses of the modern technological world fade like a wisp while Giddens’ shoeless free spirit floats through a classic like “Black Is the Color” making it relevant and ever passionate.
Rhiannon Giddens may have forsaken the lofty, subdued applause of the opera house for the homespun feel of the folk festival, but she can bask in the sunlight of bright musical horizons for years to come.