Tuesday night, Greensboro's own ground-breaking, Grammy-winning, musical sensation Rhiannon Giddens will take the stage at UNCG's Aycock Auditorium. After touring across the country non-stop, Giddens relishes the chance to play to a hometown crowd.
"We've played in Greensboro plenty of times, but this is our first 'big' show in Greensboro where it is just us [The Carolina Chocolate Drops] at a place like Aycock. This is very exciting. I've been waiting for this," said Giddens.
Giddens grew up in Greensboro and still lives here with her husband and three-year-old daughter. However, much of her time is spent on the road entertaining and educating audiences about the African-American roots of old time string music.
"It is great to be at home and be able to play a show just a few miles from your house," said Giddens. "We really do try to educate people about the music we play. I'm playing a replica of an 1840s style banjo. When you play it, you hear that type of sound that you know they heard when this was considered a musical instrument played by slaves. Back then, that's who played the banjo."
Today the Carolina Chocolate Drops are certainly outliers in terms of the ethnicity of performers who play their genre of string band music. Giving people a voice and breaking down barriers led Giddens to throw support in the direction of another ground-breaking effort in her hometown. The band is auctioning off an autographed banjo to benefit the non-profit Beyond Academics group based at UNCG. The organization helps give people with intellectual disabilities a chance to live on-campus and continue their education in a college setting.
"It is a wonderful thing they are doing because everybody deserves to have a chance to live their life as independently as possible," said Giddens.
Beyond Academics helps students with a wide range of developmental intellectual disabilities. That can include anything from downs syndrome to autism.
There are a total of nine schools statewide that provide some type of post-primary education certificate programs for people with intellectual disabilities. UNCG is the only school in the state with a four-year program.
"The response has been absolutely tremendous," said Lalenja Harrington, Director of Academic Life and Giddens' sister. "Our first year we maybe had eight students and now we have more than 50. It is students from all over the state and some out-of-state. They live on campus or in dorms and we help provide all of the support to give them some of the life skills they need to be more independent. We teach them how to manage their money, how to use transportation, pedestrian laws, and everything a lot of us take for granted."
One of the students at UNCG this semester is Bradford West of Durham. West was diagnosed with autism and learned about the program at UNCG while he was in high school.
"My mom said she found this program and thought I might be interested in it. I told her yes, it sounds cool," said West. "It helps me be independent, meet new people, and socialize with people in the community. Right now I'm even taking one class with the regular UNCG students, which is media studies. It is cool."
West said he hopes to learn how to become an auto mechanic during his time with the program. Engineering a way for students like West to break down barriers and find their own voice truly resonates with Giddens.
"Our society is strengthened when everyone can be together," said Giddens.
You can bid on the banjo HERE.