Rhiannon Giddens is a North Carolina treasure whose accomplishments go far beyond recent Beyoncé feature

By Cameron Lee 

February 14, 2024

North Carolina’s own Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens is featured on Beyoncé’s new single, “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM.” The Greensboro native and MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipient (2017), revealed the news through social media.

I woke up yesterday morning to new music from Beyoncé, featuring none other than my banjo and viola playing throughout. On the heels of her Super Bowl commercial album announcement, her single “Texas Hold ‘Em” is the first off her new country record, #actii.” 

Giddens, who is an advocate of music education and the teaching of history behind instruments such as the banjo, expressed her elation of a global superstar such as Beyoncé, featuring the instrument on the track. 

“I used to say many times, as soon as Beyoncé puts the banjo on a track, my job is done. Well, I didn’t expect the banjo to be mine, and I know darn well my job isn’t done, but today is a pretty good day,” she wrote. 

Giddens, who was a part of the old-time band Carolina Chocolate Drops, won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album for their 2010 release, Genuine Negro Jig. 

Giddens started her music career in 2005 after meeting instrumentalists Dom Flemons and Súle Greg Wilson at the Black Banjo Then and Now Gathering in Boone, North Carolina. The trio started a string band called Sankofa Strings, which translates to “retrieve” or “go back and get it” in the Twi language (spoken in southern and central Ghana). Giddens and Flemons went on to form Carolina Chocolate Drops shortly after with fiddle player Justin Robinson. The old-time band consisted of all members singing and playing instruments such as the banjo, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, bones, jug, and kazoo– heavily influenced and mentored by legendary North Carolina fiddle player, Joe Thompson. 

Carolina Chocolate Drops went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album for their 2010 release, Genuine Negro Jig, and Giddens has released five albums throughout her decorated solo career, winning another Grammy (Best Folk Album) in 2022 for her collaborative project with Italian multi-instrumentalist, Francesco Turrisi. Giddens’ latest release, You’re The One, finds the multi-talented artist tapping more into her rock, blues, gospel, and Cajun music influences, featuring Americana star Jason Isbell on the track, “Yet to Be.” 

Rhiannon Giddens performing at the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s 14th annual ROMP Fest in 2017. Photo: Greg Eans / AP

Giddens was also a member of the rock supergroup, The New Basement Tapes, which featured Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Elvis Costello, Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), and Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons). The group released an album in 2014 (Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes) produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett, which consisted of a series of tracks based on lyrics handwritten by Bob Dylan in 1967. 

In 2023, Giddens won the Pulitzer Prize for Omar, an opera loosely based on the life of Omar ibn Said, who wrote the only documented memoir by a slave in America in Arabic, A Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar ibn Said, in 1831. Giddens wrote the libretto and composed the music alongside Michael Abels, who is best known for scoring Jordan Peele films Get OutUs, and Nope

Giddens has also published two children’s books based on the lyrics to her songs “Build A House” and “We Could Fly.”

While many may be discovering Giddens nationally through her instrumental feature on Beyoncé’s “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM,” from the pop star’s forthcoming album (set to be released on March 29), Giddens has long been a North Carolina treasure. 


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