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American Railroad: A musical journey of reclamation

Silkroad Ensemble
Noir Prism
Silkroad Ensemble

Melony Dodson talks with Rhiannon Giddens, Artistic Director of the Silkroad Ensemble, about American Railroad and the Grammy Award-winning ensemble's upcoming performance at the Big Ears Festival 2024. Giddens also discusses her other performances at the festival, including collaborations with Christian McBride, Francesco Turrisi, and many others.

In 1998, Yo-Yo Ma conceived of the Silkroad Ensemble, bringing together musicians from around the world to create a musical language founded in difference...an ensemble created on the exchange of ideas, tradition, and innovation across borders. Today, under the leadership of Artistic Director, Rhiannon Giddens and Executive Director, Ben Hartley, Silkroad leads social impact initiatives and educational programming alongside the creation of new music by the Grammy Award-winning Silkroad Ensemble.

Silkroad's newest initiative, American Railroad, is its most ambitious project to date and was conceived by Giddens. The transcontinental railroad is a nearly 2,000 mile-long railroad line build in the 1860's that connected the existing eastern US rail networks to the west coast. The people who built the transcontinental railroad are the focus of American Railroad: Indigenous and African Americans, as well as Irish, Chinese, Japanese, and other immigrant laborers whose contributions have been largely erased from history. American Railroad seeks to highlight the untold stories and amplify the unheard voices from these communities.

The tour program includes three new commissions by Cecile McLorin Salvant, Suzanne Kite, and Wu Man, as well as re-envisioned arrangements by Giddens and fellow Silkroad artists, Haruka Fujii, Maeve Gilchrist, Niwel Tsumbu, Pura Fé, Sandeep Das, and Mazz Swift.

Rhiannon Giddens and the Silkroad Ensemble will present American Railroad in Knoxville as part of the Big Ears Festival, on Sunday, March 24th at 1pm at the Mill and Mine. Additionally, Rhiannon and her band perform on Friday, March 22nd at 10pm in the Tennessee Theatre, as well as on Saturday, March 23rd at 8pm with Christian McBride and Francesco Turrisi; that performance also at the Tennessee Theatre.

Additional information about the Big Ears Festival is online at https://bigearsfestival.org/
Additional information about the Silkroad Ensemble and American Railroad is at https://www.silkroad.org/american-railroad

Melony calls the beautiful mountains of Boone, N.C., home, although she was born near Greensboro, N.C. There’s just something about those Blue Ridge Mountains that got in her blood and never left after she moved there to attend Appalachian State University (ASU). While at ASU, she majored in piano performance and music therapy and began to cultivate a love for accompanying and for collaborating with other musicians. This soon led her to earn a master’s degree in collaborative piano at the University of Tennessee, which she attended from 2006-2008.
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