Musician and actress Rhiannon Giddens has been awarded one of the MacArthur "genius grants" for her work "reclaiming African-American contributions to folk and country," the institution says.
Giddens, who resides in Nashville part-time, gave an impassioned speech on the subject of race and music at this year’s gathering of the International Bluegrass Music Association.
"Are we going to let bluegrass, as an art form, recognize the fullness of its history? Are going to acknowledge that the question is not, 'How do we get diversity into bluegrass?' but, 'How do we get diversity back into bluegrass?' "
Being selected as a MacArthur Fellow is, by its nature, a surprise: There is no application process. It comes with a $625,000 award to use as the recipient sees fit.
Giddens told the Charlotte News Observer she will use the money awarded by the Fellowship to work on larger projects while taking some time off the road. She said she’s currently obsessed with a massacre of African Americans in Wilmington in 1898.
"It’s full of things that resonate with what’s going on now about the idea of democracy," she told the paper. "As an artist, I can see the art that can be made by connecting those events and characters to today."
In August, during the Americana Music Awards at the Ryman Auditorium, Giddens gave a spellbinding performance of her song “Julie,” from her 2017 album based on slave narratives and civil rights, Freedom Highway.
During her most recent concert at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center last month, Giddens took a knee to her show their support for activist athletes.
Giddens, 40, is a former member of the Grammy-winning group Carolina Chocolate Drops and also was a recurring character on the TV show Nashville this year.