Giddens and Peters: Gourd Banjo


Rhiannon Giddens is the co-founder of the Grammy Award-winning string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, in which she plays banjo and fiddle. She gained recognition as a solo artist when she performed at the “Another Day, Another Time” concert at New York City’s Town Hall in 2013. In 2015 Giddens released her critically acclaimed solo debut album, the Grammy-nominated Tomorrow Is My Turn, which masterfully blended American musical genres like gospel, jazz, blues and country, and showcased her extraordinary emotional range and dazzling vocal prowess. Giddens’ follow-up album, Freedom Highway, was released in February 2017. It included nine original songs Giddens wrote or co-wrote along with a traditional song and two civil rights-era songs, “Birmingham Sunday” and Staple Singers’ well-known “Freedom Highway,” from which the album takes its name. Giddens has  received the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Singer of the Year and the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Bluegrass and Banjo. In 2017, Giddens was awarded a MacArthur Genius Award.

Apprentice Uma Peters has performed with her brother Giri at the Brooklyn Americana Fest, IBMA’s Shout and Shine Celebration of Diversity, Tennessee’s Poetry Out Loud, and many other concerts, festival, and contests. Under Giddens tutelage, Peters will learn to play on the gourd banjo, primarily through the techniques in the Briggs Banjo Instructor of 1855. Peters states: “I have been playing clawhammer banjo since I was 7-years-old. I wanted to learn to play banjo after watching Rhiannon Giddens and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I liked their groove and sound, and it made people want to dance. I also wanted to be able to play and sing like that. I looked up to Rhiannon because I had never seen clawhammer before, and had never seen a woman playing banjo. I also had never seen a musician of color playing this music.”