BALTIMORE Musician Rhiannon Giddens, a Greensboro, N.C., native, achieved international acclaim in 2010 with a Grammy Award yet, she remains somewhat mystified as to why her music has yet to catch-on with more African-Americans.
During a recent visit to the Baltimore bedroom community of Frederick, Maryland, she showcased her unique blend of bluegrass, folk, jazz, blues and soul at the intimate Weinberg Center for the Arts in downtown Frederick.
Backed by a sextet featuring her vocalist-sister and nephew/hip-hop rapper, Giddens entertained a sold-out audience full of some of her largest supporters— a crowd reflecting about 95-percent white people.
Two of the few black people who attended the show were musician Royce Folks and his sweetheart, Kenya Watkins. The twosome drove from their home in Richmond, Virginia, to catch the act, because a recent performance in Richmond had sold-out.
“We realize there’s not a lot of blacks who are into her music. I think it’s just because they’re not familiar with her stuff,” said Folks, the bass player and bandleader with Richmond-based Bushleage (blues) Band. “If they get a chance to hear her, they’d change their minds.”
“It’s all about her vibe,” said Watkins, who manages Folks’ band. “Rhiannon is here to educate people about the roots of American music. She plays the banjo, but she lets people know that the banjo has African roots. It’s just a matter of time— blacks will catch-on. She just needs to keep doing what she does so well.
Along with her original quartet, the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, Giddens and that group— a self-described string band— actually formed on the premise of espousing the fact that African-Americans were the original purveyors of indigenous American music styles— bluegrass and folk.
During a recent interview, Giddens revealed that during her live tours, her audiences are typically void of African-Americans. She noted that fact again, following her October 1 performance in Frederick.
"It’s true. My fan base is mostly white. I’ve been doing this for ten years, but I don't get much love from the black press. I’ve been trying to break in, but it has been very difficult,” she admits.
At the Weinberg Center, formerly the Tivoli Theater, which opened in December 1926, Rhiannon and crew performed flawlessly in an intimate room which seats about 1200. Though recently renovated, the room’s interior shares a close resemblance to the acclaimed Fox Theater in downtown Atlanta, Georgia.
To echo Watkins’ earlier statements, I believe that if Giddens stays the course, in time, she will ultimately realize a significant increase in support from black people.
To learn more about Rhiannon Giddens and her music, visit her website: www.rhiannongiddens.com. You will be directed to her performances on YouTube and her music available on iTunes or Facebook/RhiannonGiddensMusic.