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Rhiannon Giddens comes home for a concert at Greensboro's new Tanger Center
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Rhiannon Giddens comes home for a concert at Greensboro's new Tanger Center

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GREENSBORO — Next week, Rhiannon Giddens will come home.

For the multi-talented Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, banjoist and fiddle player —and her audience — the stay in her hometown will be brief but memorable.

On Sept. 2, Giddens will give the first public performance at the new downtown Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts.

She and Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, Giddens’ partner in music and life, will travel from their homes in Ireland to perform in support of their new album, “They’re Calling Me Home.”

“It will be amazing to see her take the stage in our beautiful new state-of-the-art performing arts center to perform for her hometown fans,” Mayor Nancy Vaughan said in a news release.

In an email this week from her home outside the Irish city of Limerick, Giddens talked about the impact of the pandemic, and the messages that she wants to convey though music.

Like a growing number of other artists and venues, she and Turrisi will require audience members to provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative diagnostic test within 48 hours before their concert.

Giddens said she was inspired to take a stand by another musician, Jason Isbell.

“I believe that the only way forward is in taking care of each other as best we can,” Giddens said.

“Getting vaxx’d (or taking a test if there’s a reason you cannot or will not vaccinate),” she said. “was the only way I could justify gathering people together and not being afraid I was creating a spreader event.”

Giddens has made it her mission to lift up people whose contributions to American musical history previously have been erased.

Now 44, she has undertaken so many musical projects to that end that it’s difficult to remember them all.

When it awarded her a 2017 $625,000 “genius grant” to help finance her work, the MacArthur Foundation praised her for “reclaiming African American contributions to folk and country music and bringing to light new connections between music from the past and the present.”

Giddens’ work has earned her a profile in The New Yorker magazine and multiple magazine covers.

Smithsonian Magazine called her “an electrifying artist who brings alive the memories of forgotten predecessors, white and black.”

“It’s all about the story and how far can I take the particular opportunity to tell that story,” Giddens said via email. “There’s so many stories that need to be told, and I’m in a position to keep telling them. So when I can, I do. When I can involve other people, I do. When I can pass on an opportunity, I do.”

The trained opera singer co-founded the Grammy-winning African American string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, before becoming a solo artist.

She curated the inaugural N.C. Folk Festival in 2018.

She starred in two seasons of the “Nashville” television series.

She contributed original music to a video game soundtrack.

In 2019, she teamed with Come Hear North Carolina to pay tribute to victims of the 1898 Wilmington coup and massacre.

The tragic events of that year saw a white supremacist mob take over the city of Wilmington, burn and destroy African American-owned businesses and take an untold number of African American lives.

She toured with the supergroup Our Native Daughters, exploring slavery’s effect on women in their songs.

She appeared in Ken Burns’ “Country Music” series.

She received her sixth Grammy nomination for a 2019 album with Turrisi, “There is No Other.”

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Since the pandemic hit, Giddens and Turrisi have spent much of their time holed up in their homes in Ireland, closer to where their children live.

“I was really hit hard with being so far away when it felt like my country was on fire; but also realizing (like a lot of people) what you can do with a Zoom call,” Giddens said via email.

“In my case, I pivoted hard and figured out different ways to keep telling my story, that weren’t involving being onstage,” she said.

“It was frustrating for me and Francesco as well because we don’t live together, as much as we’d like to — our children live in cities 2.5 hours away from each other, so that’s just the way it is,” she said. “But the lockdowns made it very hard to be together, and of course, we weren’t touring. So it was all very tricky.”

“But we didn’t lose anybody, and we didn’t get sick,” she added. “So you have to get frustrated, grieve, feel really sad sometimes, and still try to keep it all in perspective.”

She has made much of that opportunity.

She has served as opera podcast and radio host and has written an opera.

She signed a publishing deal with Candlewick Press that includes children’s books. The first book is slated for 2022.

She performed a tribute to folk legend Joan Baez on “Kennedy Center Honors.”

And she serves as artistic director of Silkroad, founded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Among its projects is a musical collective, the Silk Road Ensemble.

Giddens’ Audible Original debuted in July. The 1½ hour audio-only memoir follows Giddens as she examines the multitude of influences and identities that have led her to a life “nestled in the nexus.”

“I have had to turn down some fun things I would have loved to do but would have taken me away from my children,” Giddens said ... “Not to mention the pandemic making everything way more difficult, travel-wise. But I’ve gotten to do so many cool things, I’m not greedy.”

The pandemic prompted her and Turrisi to record the 12-track album, “They’re Calling Me Home.”

Its songs speak of longing for the comfort of home as well as the metaphorical “call home” of death, a tragic reality for so many during the pandemic.

“The thing that is making me the most depressed during this time the lack of community feeling; some have it, but many don’t,” Giddens said.

“The only way forward through this pandemic and this environmental emergency is together — we have to make sure that some people make do with less, so that more people have more ...”

Once the lockdown was lifted in Ireland, Giddens traveled a few times to the United States for work.

But until she made a brief visit home a few weeks ago, Giddens hadn’t seen family here — which includes her parents, step parents, sister and nephew — in nearly 18 months.

Now, she’s returning, with U.S. performances starting at the Tanger Center.

Bassist Jason Sypher and some hometown friends and favorites will join them in the show, Giddens said.

Giddens’ concert will launch unofficially a venue that will host touring Broadway productions and concerts, the Guilford College Bryan Series of guest speakers, Greensboro Symphony Orchestra performances, a Greensboro Opera production, comedy shows and family entertainment.

Giddens and Turrisi will move on to performances in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, then to the Netherlands in October and back to the U.S.

“Tour is a loose word,” she said. “It’s a collection of dates based on ‘They’re Calling Me Home.’”

Giddens will return to the Tanger Center on Jan. 21 and 23. She will sing the role of Bess in Greensboro Opera’s production of “Porgy and Bess.”

What’s next?

“Preparing for some of those intense things you listed above,” she said. “I got some ‘Bess’ to learn, and some Silk Road to travel.”

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.


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