Distinguished guest artists come to UNCG’s campus every semester, but for the 125th anniversary Founders Day concert, the music star was one of our own.

Last Thursday, just days before receiving the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” former UNCG opera student and founding member of the Grammy award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops Rhiannon Giddens paid a visit to her alma mater to give a powerful, dynamic Founders Day performance.

In one of the most widely anticipated events of the 2017-18 University Concert and Lecture Series (UCLS), Giddens and her band performed for a full house in UNCG Auditorium. Many of the songs were from her 2017 album, “Freedom Highway,” and focused on civil rights and slave narratives.

During the first set, the spellbinding song, “At the Purchaser’s Option,” inspired by a 1792 newspaper slave advertisement, showed Giddens’ commitment to historical infusion in her songwriting.

“Well, it’s getting out,” Giddens told the audience. “I’m a bit of a history nut, and I read a lot.”

Rhiannon Giddens plays fiddle alongside students

Rhiannon Giddens jams with members of the UNCG Old-Time Ensemble.

The stirring lyrics and Giddens’ tremendous vocal talent worked in tandem with riveting instrumental work that blended blues, old time, rock, Cajun, jazz and country. UNCG alumna Laurelyn Dossett and Giddens’ sister, Director of UNCG’s Beyond Academics program Dr. Lalenja Harrington, joined Giddens for the song “Freedom Highway.”

Earlier in the day, Giddens, who has shared the stage with Aretha Franklin and Emmylou Harris at the White House, held a master class open to the UNCG community and also played in a jam session with UNCG’s Old-Time Ensemble, directed by Dr. Christen Blanton Mack.

“Seeing the Old-Time Ensemble students jamming with a musician of that caliber was awesome,” said Mack. “Rhiannon gave the group some amazing feedback about drive, pulse and groove in fiddle tunes. Drawing on her own experiences, she brought the players to a whole new level.”

Giddens encouraged students to be fully involved in their education and to lead with their hearts while still developing skills that can benefit their careers in the long term.

Many students, both music students and those from other disciplines, said they felt inspired by both Giddens’ career and what she shared with them about her musical history.

“Her level of musicianship and performance is so high that it seems unreal,” said senior English major and banjo player Jeremy Glasgow. “The opportunity to play with Rhiannon was an honor in itself, and to hear about her experience with the Old-Time music tradition was eye-opening.”

 


Story by Susan Kirby-Smith, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications