Category: Rhiannon Giddens

  • Way Up North in Dixie

    “Dixie,” or “Dixieland,” are names used to refer to the American South. The song “(I Wish I Was In) Dixie’s Land,” more commonly known just as “Dixie,” was written in 1859 and published by a white blackface entertainer named Daniel Emmett. However, the book Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Family’s Claim to the […]

  • Blood Memory in Porgy and Bess

    Over the weekend, I saw the Metropolitan Opera’s wonderful new production of George Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. Choreographer Camille A. Brown, below, was interviewed backstage about the dances she created for the production. She spoke about drawing on the performers’ “blood memory.” In a recent TED talk, Brown explained that: Movement has always […]

  • The Happy Heaven of Harlem

    Many artists moved to Harlem, where they were free to cultivate the inner life. Langston Hughes, the most famous poet of the Harlem Renaissance, reading his poem “I, Too”: The Harlem Renaissance was the artistic flowering of the Great Migration. As Duke Ellington wrote in “Drop Me Off in Harlem”: I don’t want your Dixie,You […]

  • Affrilachian Banjo and Pre-Blues Traditions

    Dink Roberts (1894-1989). John Snipes (1899-1983). Elizabeth Cotten (1893-1987), who was left-handed, adapted both banjo and guitar by simply turning them upside-down. Rhiannon Giddens’s version of “Georgie Buck”: Giddens’s mentor, banjo player Odell Thompson (1911-1994), with his cousin, fiddler Joe Thompson (1918-2012). For more, browse here: https://affrilachianmusic.weebly.com/stylistic-and-instrumental-origins.html The banjo as a genteel parlor instrument: Plink-a-Pong, […]

  • Blackberry Fool

    In 2015, acclaimed children’s book author Emily Jenkins and Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Sophie Blackall published A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat. The book, named a “Best Illustrated Children’s Book” by the New York Times, was described by the publisher as: a fascinating picture book in which four families, in four different […]

  • The DNA of American Folk Music

    Engraving of Pocahontas (1595-1617). In 2018, in response to pushback against her longtime claims of Native American ancestry (including from President Trump, who refers to her mockingly as “Pocahontas”), Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren had her DNA tested, and made the results public. The test indicated that Warren had a Native American ancestor […]

  • Love and Theft, redux: “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”

    Content warning: racist language/imagery. In 2019, the Yankees cancelled their tradition of playing Kate Smith’s stentorian recording of “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch. Taking their cue from New York, the NHL team the Philadelphia Flyers not only cancelled Kate Smith, but also covered (and later removed) a statue of her outside of the […]

  • Barbados

    On the new album Our Native Daughters, featuring Rhiannon Giddens, Amethyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell (above), there is a banjo tune titled “Barbados,” believed to be the first western notation of a slave song in the new world. The melody was transcribed by one D.W. Dickson in Barbados in the 18th century. Giddens […]

  • Birmingham Sunday

    On Sunday, September 15, 1963, the KKK bombed of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Four young girls on their way to Bible study were killed. The (white) folksinger Richard Fariña wrote a song to commemorate the tragedy, “Birmingham Sunday”: The tune of Fariña’s song is taken from the Scottish folksong “I Loved A […]

  • “Ethiopian” Songs: Love and Theft

    [Trigger/content warnings: lots of racist and ableist imagery and language.] In 1768, English playwright Isaac Bickerstaffe and Charles Dibdin — librettist and composer, respectively — presented their comic opera The Padlock at London’s Drury Lane Theatre. Dibdin portrayed the role of Mungo, a black slave from the West Indies, and his aria “Dear Heart! What a […]