Appearing at the Savannah Music Festival for the third time, Rhiannon Giddens will come with songs from her latest American Music Award-nominated album “Freedom Highway.”
With songs like “Better Get It Right the First Time,” which addresses the issue of police brutality against black men, and songs about slavery like “At the Purchaser’s Option,” it is easy to see why some think Giddens’ music is politically driven, but she feels differently.
“My music is not political; it’s humanist,” Giddens said in a 2016 interview with Austin City Limits. “Politics is a way to divide people.
“So, I feel like it’s our job as artists — not just my job, but art’s job — to comment on what’s going on in the social sphere,” Giddens said. “It’s definitely our job to entertain and create emotional bonds with people, but I also think it’s our job to speak out when we see injustices happening.”
In that same interview, Giddens made it known that she does not consider herself a songwriter who sings, but rather a singer who writes songs.
In 2017, Giddens was granted a prestigious $625,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The so-called "genius grant" is a five-year, no-strings-attached stipend given to individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work. The grant is designed to provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their own artistic, intellectual, and professional activities without the worry of specific obligations.
According to the MacArthur Foundation, Giddens was honored for “reclaiming African American contributions to folk and country music and bringing to light new connections between music from the past and the present."
When asked by Billboard magazine how she planned on spending the grant, Giddens stated that the money, to her, was “time.”
“That's really what the money is to me, it's time,” Giddens said. “Also time to be with my family. I've sacrificed a lot in the last 10 years to do this. I've sacrificed a lot of time with my children [ages 4 and 8], so to be able to be home with them more and to be creating is everything.”
Born and raised in Greensboro, N.C., Giddens trained to be an opera singer but decided to pursue other music genres like folk, country, R&B, and jazz.
In 2005, Giddens helped form a fiddle- and banjo-based group, Carolina Chocolate Drops. Their fifth studio album, "Genuine Negro Jig,” won the group a Best Traditional Folk Album Grammy in 2010.
In 2013, the group disbanded and Giddens released her first solo project in 2015, called “Tomorrow is My Turn.” Between then and her latest album, Giddens has performed folk songs with other artists and has branched out into acting with a recurring role in CMT’s "Nashville."
Giddens will be taking the stage at 7:30 p.m. April 13 at Lucas Theatre for the Arts.