What's on Tap

What's on Tap

NC folk artist wins Steve Martin Prize for banjo music

Posted September 12

Rhiannon Giddens

— Rhiannon Giddens, a folk artist from a three-member band based out of Boone, North Carolina, just won the seventh annual Steve Martin Prize for banjo music.

Giddens' musical journey began in Ohio with opera training at Oberlin College that later segued into Scottish and Celtic music.

In 2005, she attended Appalachian State University's Black Banjo Gathering, where she met now-fellow band members Don Flemons and Justin Robinson. Together, the three artists founded the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a band well-known in Boone and in the Triangle area for its "old-time string sound" that utilizes vocals and instruments like bones, guitars, banjos, fiddles, brushes, ukelele and more.

Carolina Chocolate Drops

In recent years, Giddens has worked to expand her own solo recording projects, including Tomorrow is My Turn, which was nominated for a Grammy for "Best Folk Album" in 2016.

In addition to her role in the Carolina Chocolate Drops, she has performed on gourd banjo, 19th century minstrel banjo and the three-stringed African akonting.

She even performed at Tennessee's Bonaroo Music and Arts Festival in 2005.

The Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass was created seven years ago to award professional or semi-professional artists for their accomplishments in the field of five-string banjo or bluegrass music. Giddens' passion for bringing the sound and feel of old-time black string bands into the 21st century was one of many attributes that contributed to her recent honor.

Winners of the award receive a cash prize of $50,000 and a bronze sculpture.

In a February 2016 interview, Giddens said, “I was attracted to the banjo before I knew the history of it. I just loved it. In the beginning I felt like I was kind of an interloper, and then I realized actually it’s everybody’s music. When you look at the history of it, it’s everybody’s music. It’s a huge history that nobody talks about, and that really drew me.”


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