A Q & A with Rhiannon Giddens
by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com
From her gig with the Carolina Chocolate Drops to her gigs with T Bone Burnett (The New Basement Tapes and Inside Llewyn Davis), Rhiannon Giddens has always held her own. In fact, she’s held so firmly, so fiercely, that she’s been added to a lineage of singers that includes Nina Simone, Rosetta Tharp, Odetta, and others. From the first time he heard her, Burnett, for one, knew that lineage needed to — and would — live on in Giddens. “We need that person in our culture,” he said. “She is, in fact, that person in our culture.” Now, Giddens has a new solo album, ‘Tomorrow Is My Turn,’ that finds her holding her own and living on one step further.
KM: With your work — and that of the CCDs — you’re more than just a singer. You’re also an educator and a historian. Did you realize that going in? Or have you had to re-calibrate along the way?
RG: My first real experience in music as a potential career was in the classical world — and, in that world, you have a lot of layers to uncover and examine — the language, the history, the emotional content, and all this beyond the vocals. So I got used to approaching a song from the research point of view first. I then started to explore Celtic and Gaelic music and, again, started with the research as it was a different culture and history to mine, and I never want to sing a song I haven’t at least tried to understand. So, when I got into the banjo, I was already in that mode — and got even deeper!
How does it feel to be mentioned in the same breath as legends like Odetta, Mahalia Jackson, and Nina Simone?
Unreal. I will just say that I will do my best to answer to the responsibility I was given along with this voice. I was put here to do something, as we all were, and I strive to do my best to do it.
Tell me about the Cornbread Duet collaboration with Twyla Tharp.
Twyla was an absolute peach. She has done so much in the world of dance. It was quite an honor to work with her. We learned a lot, as a band, to perform those songs for those dancers — such a different form than the vernacular clogging that we are used to… very broadening.
Your repertoire is wide and deep, from country to gospel and back again. What’s your song selection process?
I have a real organic feel for picking songs. There’s so much music to listen to in the world, you’ll never get to it all, so I let things come in as they will. And when inspiration hits, upon listening to a particular track, it’s instantaneous.
How has the transition been from band member to solo artist? More freedom, more pressure?
Well, I’m cheating a bit, really, because I have all my band mates joining me on this tour, which is super exciting. There is more pressure, though, because all the interviews come to me, the tour is under my name, etc. But i’m ready for it!
Rhiannon Giddens’ ‘Tomorrow Is My Turn’ was released on February 10 and is available HERE: