Rhiannon Giddens

The charismatic singer of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens branched out with a wider-ranging and much-admired solo career. Giddens was born in North Carolina in 1977-and while the Fleetwood Mac song "Rhiannon" was popular that year, she said that she actually got the name because her mother was reading Mabinogion, the Welsh mythological epic. This led to an interest in Celtic culture that she'd pursue later in life. After studying opera at Oberlin Conservatory, she began performing Scottish and Gaelic music on banjo, and this led her to attend the fateful Black Banjo Then and Now Gathering in Boone, North Carolina in 2005. There she met fellow musician Dom Flemons who shared her interest in the string-band tradition, which they set out to revitalize-first in the band Sankofa Strings, which evolved into the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Over ten years and a half-dozen albums, the group drew from the oft-neglected history of black string bands and early "hot jazz," and non-musicologists latched onto the band's lyricism and energy. Giddens emerged as the star of the group, and the only member who'd remain through its lineup changes. Star producer T Bone Burnett was one of her admirers, involving her on two high-profile projects: The soundtrack to "Inside Llewyn Davis," the Coen Brothers' 2014 movie about the Greenwich Village folk scene; and Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, a setting of unfinished Bob Dylan songs. Burnett also produced her first solo album, Tomorrow is My Turn,which took on a wide range of music from outside the Chocolate Drops' territory, including hints of the operatic and Celtic music she'd grown up with. Much of the album was steeped in country, blues and gospel, with songs drawn from Odetta, Dolly Parton and Elizabeth Cotton; the title track was a French pop nugget by Charles Aznavour. On tour she branched out even more, duetting with Sir Tom Jones on Jools Holland's UK TV show, and performing the Ziggy Stardust track "It Ain't Easy" in David Bowie's memory. Released in February 2017, her second solo album Freedom Highway was a loose-knit concept album with songs that speak for "voices that need to be heard," she explained in a Los Angeles Times interview. The largely original songs songs addressed the 17th century slave trade, modern racially-inspired crimes, and police brutality (the latter in a rap by her nephew Justin Harrington on "Better Get It Right the First Time"). With the album hitting the stores, she made her acting debut in "Nashville" (ABC/CMT 2012- ), playing the role of a social worker with an angelic voice.