Today's Generation of Women In Banjo - Rhiannon Giddens

by Carolina Bridges

The sisterhood of banjo is legion and women have been important in the growth and expansion of the banjo for decades. Their passion, dedication, innovation, and sense of adventure are alive and well in today’s young women banjo players. Today we would like to introduce to you to a new section which will highlight just a sampling of the beautiful new talented young women who play Deering banjos.

Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens with her Deering John Hartford banjo Rhiannon Giddens with her Deering John Hartford banjo

Best known for her lead singing, fiddle, banjo playing, and songwriting with the Grammy Award winning band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens is a striking beauty, with a classically trained voice and is a multi-instrumentalist. A native of Greensboro, North Carolina, she is a 2000 graduate of Oberlin Conservatory and a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops formed in 2005 along with Justin Robinson, and Dom Flemons while all were in their 20’s.

The group’s music is based on the traditional music of the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina and a tribute to Joe Thompson, a black fiddler then in his 80’s who taught the early group tunes and how to jam. Genuine Negro Jig released in February of 2010, won a Grammy for the group under Best Traditional Folk Album and they have gone on to release at least 5 CDs. Among their numerous awards, they can include the song Daughter’s Lament in 2012 as part of the soundtrack of the movie The Hunger Games.

Rhiannon’s first Deering banjo was a Goodtime stained in black which was part of our “Rainbow Collection” Goodtime banjos released in 2002.  When we asked Rhiannon what drew her to the banjo, she said:

I was drawn to the banjo when I heard it being played for old time music, clawhammer style.  I remember going to contra dances and hearing the old time bands and going, that sounds so COOL!  And then I started learning about the complex history of the banjo and that made me want to play it even more.”

In 2009, Rhiannon was playing an openback Hartford banjo while carrying her first child. She said it made it easier to accommodate her “baby girl” (Aiofe) while performing. We all enjoyed hearing that very motherly comment and thinking how great it was that a baby could be introduced to banjo as such a young age!

While the Carolina Chocolate Drops have made changes in their members since their formation in 2005, Rhiannon remains a constant and continues to perform with her Deering banjos. When asked "Why Deering?" she responded:

Rhiannon Giddens with her Goodtime banjo Rhiannon Giddens with her Goodtime banjo

"Deering has such a good beginner, affordable banjo in the Goodtime - it's trustworthy and has a good sound right off the bat while being in a beginner's likely budget.  So I got hooked from the beginning, and when I outgrew the Goodtime, there were so many other great Deering banjos to choose from, and Deering is so great about creating a relationship with you and keeping up with where you are as an artist.  And their customer service is fantastic.  I trust in Deering."

Rhiannon continues to flourish as an entertainer and her versatility across many styles and genres grows to include singing opera, blues, gospel, Gaelic, and is at ease performing with such instruments as violin, banjo, and others. We found her reason for choosing a Goodtime banjo both  amusing and very real. Why a Goodtime?

It didn't sound like crap!  So many other banjos in its class sound really bad, even to a beginner - but the Goodtime sounds like a real banjo, and has decent response.  I got my nephew one! And I recommend them to anyone starting out.”

We couldn’t ask for more trust than that!


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