Rhiannon Giddens Delivers Compelling Speech at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass
Rhiannon Giddens opened IBMA’s annual World of Bluegrass Business Conference on September 26 with a powerful keynote address.
Giddens’ speech, which earned her a standing ovation from the crowd, focused on diversity in bluegrass music. She highlighted bluegrass’ African and European roots, noting that “the full truth… is so much more interesting, and truly American.” A high point in Giddens’ speech came when she asked, “The question shouldn’t be how do we get diversity into bluegrass but how do we get diversity back into bluegrass?” Before taking the stage, she posted a photo of the bibliography for her speech to Twitter.
Giddens’ most recent album, the excellent Freedom Highway, grappled with civil rights issues past and present. As reviewer Lee Zimmerman wrote on ND, “the material finds a common bond in themes that resonate throughout the racial strife that’s engulfed America and that’s still prevalent today.” She was the first woman of color to win the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Bluegrass and Banjo in 2016.
Upon announcing Giddens as keynote speaker, IBMA executive director Paul Schiminger remarked, “Having grown up in a household filled with bluegrass music and then trained in classical voice, [Rhiannon Giddens] has drawn upon this early foundation to form a creative musical journey. Rhiannon has achieved both critical acclaim and great career success by merging elements of old-time, folk, jazz, country, and bluegrass to reach whole new audiences. Her passion for American roots music, along with her thoughtful and purposeful career, provides each of us a lens through which we can see beyond our own barriers.”
In line with Giddens’ speech, the theme for this year’s World of Bluegrass conference is “Community and Connection.” The conference continues through September 28, with the IBMA Bluegrass Ramble occurring in tandem. The 28th annual International Bluegrass Music Awards will cap the conference on September 28, followed by the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival occurring September 29 – 30. All events take place in Raleigh, North Carolina. For more information on World of Bluegrass, check out ND columnist (and IBMA award nominee) Ted Lehmann’s extensive guide here.
Watch a clip of Giddens’ speech below and watch an interview between Giddens and Bluegrass Today conducted at IBMA here.