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Rhiannon Giddens Awarded 2017 MacArthur Fellowship

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Rhiannon GiddensWednesday morning, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced that singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens has been named a MacArthur Fellow. The MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a "genius grant," offers an unrestricted $625,000 grant, distributed over five years, to, in the Foundation's words, "individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future."

Giddens said of being awarded the Fellowship: "I am just thrilled! So many things I want to do - but the first thing is to thank whoever nominated and supported me for this grant - it means the world to me, and to the projects I have been longing to do", and added in an interview with her home town paper, North Carolina's News & Observer, "it's gonna let me live a little bit. I'll be able to pursue some things while not having to stay on the road so much to keep the lights on. This will let me tour a little less and work on larger projects I believe need to be done." More info about Giddens and her Fellowship, including downloadable photos and video, is available here.

Among this year's recipients, in addition to Giddens, are a painter, a psychologist, an immunologist, a computer scientist, a historian, a fiction writer, a designer and urban planner, a composer and musician, and a community leader. All Fellows were selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future.

"From transforming conditions for low-wage workers to identifying internet security vulnerabilities, from celebrating the African American string band tradition to designing resilient urban habitats, these new MacArthur Fellows bring their exceptional creativity to diverse people, places, and social challenges," said Cecilia Conrad, Managing Director of the MacArthur Fellows Program. "Their work gives us reason for optimism and inspires us all."

Ms. Giddens's glorious voice ... merges an opera singer's detail and a deep connection to Southern roots. She can summon the power of a field holler, Celtic quavers, girlish innocence, bluesy sensuality, gospel exaltation or the pain of slavery. She can sing velvety, long-breathed phrases or rasp and yip like a singer from the backwoods long ago. For all her technical control, her voice is a perpetually soulful marvel.
 ~ New York Times

Giddens is currently on a headlining tour in celebration of her highly praised, Americana Award–nominated second solo album Freedom Highway. The album, released earlier this year, includes nine original songs Giddens wrote or co-wrote while she and her band toured for her debut album, 2015's critically acclaimed Tomorrow Is My Turn, plus a traditional song and two civil rights-era songs—Richard Fariña's "Birmingham Sunday" and Staple Singers' well-known "Freedom Highway," from which the album takes its name. Tickets for this tour are on sale now and available here.

Freedom Highway is a departure from Tomorrow Is My Turn, which included one original song, with the rest being her interpretations of songs written or performed by a wide variety of female musicians. Giddens co-produced Freedom Highway with multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell in his Breaux Bridge, Louisiana studio, with the bulk of recording done in wooden rooms built prior to the Civil War.

Rhiannon Giddens shows us that while America was never as innocent as some nostalgists want to believe, its young spirit still lives within, resistant to corruption, leading those who can hear its voice toward a better place down the road.
 ~ NPR Music

As producers, Giddens and Powell sought to release the stories already in the walls, allowing the space to be a voice in itself. This approach allowed for an emotional fearlessness and presence not always easy to achieve in the studio. Together they assembled the players, which included her superb touring band, local musicians from the bayou, a soulful horn section from New York, and talented family members. The principle recording was done over an intense eight-day period. The result is an album that is rawer and more personal than its predecessor.

Giddens has a recurring role in CMT's series Nashville, the new season of which begins in January. Her Grammy–nominated duet with country superstar Eric Church on his powerful anti-racism song "Kill a World" reached the top ten on country radio.

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