CoastLine: Rhiannon Giddens On Illuminating History Through Music

Jul 25, 2018

Rhiannon Giddens is a singer and songwriter.  She plays the banjo and the fiddle.  She’s a storyteller, activist, and musical historian.  She’s also a founding member of the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops -- inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2016. 

Last year, Rhiannon Giddens won a MacArthur Genius Award of $625,000 for what the Foundation calls her reclamation of African American contributions to folk and country music and her illumunination of new connections between music from the past and the present.  MacArthur Fellows, by the way, are nominated and cannot apply for the prestigious award.  There are also no strings attached to the money. 

Despite that freedom – or perhaps because of it -- Rhiannon Giddens is composing a musical that tells the story of the only known coup d’etat in American history – which took place in Wilmington, North Carolina 120 years ago this November 10th.  That was the day armed white men drove people of color out of government, out of their homes, and out of town.  Basic facts around the event, including the actual death toll, are still murky.  So Giddens is working with historians and American essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan to piece together some of those still-disputed facts. 

She has produced two solo albums; Tomorrow is My Turn in 2015, and her most recent work, Freedom Highway just last year. Both feature songs that explore the experiences of people who were slaves – and the struggles of people of color during what we popularly call the Civil Rights Era. 

She plays Kenan Auditorium on the campus of the University of North Carolina Wilmington at 7:30 this Wednesday evening as part of the Lumina Festival of the Arts.