Born to an African-American mother and white father, Giddens, 42, became known for exploring African-American history for her music.
She plays banjo and violin among other instruments. The modern banjo, she noted, is inspired by the African instrument known as akonting, which is made from a gourd. At the beginning of its existence, the American banjo was known as a black instrument.
She recorded with the African-American string group Carolina Chocolate Drops before going solo. Her album, “Genuine Negro Jig”, won a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. She won a 2017 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” and the Steve Martin Award for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.
“One of the main pillars of country music was the tradition of string groups,” she said. “This string group has been at the heart of American music for a very long time.
“Before you had radio, you needed live music, and that live music was, more often than not, a string orchestra,” she continued. “And a lot of times that string group was African American.”
Giddens’ music establishes links and blurs the boundaries between several genres. In addition to old-world and African-American string orchestral music, she has written and performed folk, roots, bluegrass, blues, R&B, Celtic, and American music.