Recent MacArthur Foundation Fellowship recipient Rhiannon Giddens has teamed with three other artists for an ambitious exploration into slavery’s effect on women in a 13-song album, “Songs of Our Native Daughters,” due Feb. 22.
The project, which will be released by the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings’ African American Legacy series, also features black female roots artists Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell and Amythyst Kiah.
“Gathering a group of fellow black female artists who had and have a lot to say made it both highly collaborative and deeply personal to me,” Giddens said in a statement.
“It felt like there were things we had been waiting to say our whole lives in our art; and to be able to say them in the presence of our sisters-in-song was sweet, indeed. I see this album as a part of a larger movement to reclaim the black female history of this country.”
The first track to be released is “Mama’s Cryin’ Long,” sung by Giddens, with support from Kiah, McCalla and Russell.
Giddens also co-produced the album with her collaborator in recent years, Dirk Powell. The songs, many of them inspired by and drawn from slaves’ narratives and historical reports, were written by Giddens, McCalla, Russell and Kiah individually and in various combinations.
One example: “I Knew I Could Fly,” a song written by McCalla and Russell and inspired by Piedmont blues musician Etta Baker, who was in her 60s before she released any recordings.
“Etta didn’t become involved in the music industry earlier in her life because her husband didn’t want her to, and that fact continues to confound me,” McCalla said in the same statement. “I simply can’t imagine living in that type of reality.”
Giddens, a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops group that specializes in African American string band music, was named a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as “genius grants,” in 2017.
She’s also received considerable acclaim for the solo albums she has released over the last five years.
McCalla is a multi-instrumentalist of Haitian descent; Russell was a founding member of the Canadian band Po’ Girl and also played as half of the rock duo Birds of Chicago; and Kiah is a blues singer who often taps the Delta blues tradition for her music.