Photo by Ebru Yildiz

Rhiannon Giddens on Her North Carolina Roots, the Power of Music, and Making the Perfect Biscuit

An interview with the Grammy award-winning artist, storyteller, and multi-instrumentalist.

For Southern Living


About Rhiannon Giddens

Grammy award-winning artist, storyteller, and multi-instrumentalist who has already left a powerful mark on Southern culture—Rhiannon Giddens is just getting started. She grew up in North Carolina surrounded by bluegrass music, but her musical interests led her to other genres as well. When she was young, she started singing in the Greensboro youth chorus and went on to pursue opera at Oberlin Conservatory. After that, she co-founded the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a country, blues, and old-time music band, and she’s since gone on to a remarkable solo career. In this episode, Rhiannon talks about the first time she heard clawhammer style on the banjo, and what she learned from her mentor, Joe Thompson, a North Carolina fiddle player who introduced her to a whole catalog of lost songs.

What Rhiannon Talks About in This Episode

*Singing in the Greensboro youth chorus

*Co-founding the Carolina Chocolate Drops

*Learning from her mentor, Joe Thompson, a North Carolina fiddle player

*The story behind her latest opera, Omar

*Making the perfect biscuit while spending lockdown in Ireland

*Her grandmother’s yeast rolls

*Her mother’s influence and work ethic

*Learning to play the banjo

*Writing a children’s book

Quotes from Rhiannon Giddens

“Baking is what makes me happy. And over the lockdown, I was in Ireland, and there are just no biscuits in Ireland. I mean, there are biscuits, but they’re cookies, you know. They’re not the biscuits that we think of as biscuits.”

“I feel like I represent what the South is, which is a mixture of things. And I think that’s where our strength is.”

“The older I get, the more I realize how lucky we were to have Joe. He was 86 when we started playing with him and he was delighted to see it being passed on within the Black community, he’d play with anybody who’d come to his house…But, it was significant for him because he was the last one in his family to play that music and to see us pick it up, and I think that really made him happy.”

“As I tried to make sense of who I am, really the music kind of rescued me and my identity as not only a musician but a Southern musician and a North Carolinian musician. And, the music shows all of the influences mixing and becoming this really beautiful thing. And so I could kind of step into that identity– I’m a result of a lot of years of hard things, a lot of years of beautiful things, and ultimately that mix is what being Southern is.”

About Biscuits & Jam

In the South, talking about food is personal. It’s a way of sharing your history, your family, your culture, and yourself. Each week Sid Evans, editor in chief of Southern Living, sits down with celebrity musicians to hear stories of how they grew up, what inspired them, and how they’ve been shaped by Southern culture. Sid takes us back to some of their most cherished memories and traditions, the family meals they still think about, and their favorite places to eat on the road.