2020 Keynote Presenters: Mavis Staples and Rhiannon Giddens

2020 Keynote Presenters: Mavis Staples and Rhiannon Giddens

FAI is excited to announce that our keynote presenters for the 2020 conference are Mavis Staples and Rhiannon Giddens!

Both Mavis’ work as a civil rights activist and Rhiannon’s focus on the historical narrative of African American music and history are the perfect complement to our 2020 theme, The Story of People and Place, and focus on cultural equity at the conference. The conference theme will explore issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and address topics of immigration, intersection, and influence.


Mavis Staples is a civil rights activist and legendary artist whose 70-year music career has spanned folk, blues, R & B, soul, and gospel. Performing at rallies as part of The Staple Singers, led by her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples, she found her voice in the civil rights movement, later marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and eventually singing for President Barack Obama. Staples has crossed many generations with the power of her voice. Her work has been covered and sampled by countless artists and she has collaborated with many including Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Arcade Fire, Prince, and Hozier to name a few. Among other notable music industry awards, she received multiple GRAMMY® Awards, the Kennedy Center Honors, was inducted into both the Blues and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, received an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music, and was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts – the highest honor in the U.S. for folk and traditional arts. In 2008, she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from Folk Alliance International. Her most recent album release, We Get By, is a collaboration with Ben Harper and does not stray from her other releases with a focus on civil rights. From the album cover, a photograph from Gordon Parks in 1956 of six African American children looking through a fence at a playground they are not allowed to enter, to the soulful lyrics, Mavis Staples continues the march for civil rights.


Rhiannon Giddens is a multi-instrumentalist who studied vocal performance and opera from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, graduating in 2000. She is a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group that showcased at FAI’s 2007 and 2011 conferences, and was pivotal in bringing African American string music to the forefront in American music, winning the 2011 GRAMMY® Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. Her solo work, as well as numerous collaborations, focuses on the historical narrative of African American music and history. She was included in the Transatlantic Sessions (a collaboration between American and Celtic musicians), The New Basement Tapes (with Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford), and was part of the 2017 class of MacArthur Genius Fellows. Giddens’ recent endeavor, Our Native Daughters, is a collaboration with artists Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell, that openly addresses issues of slavery, misogyny, and racism. She also worked with poet Caroline Randall Williams in the ballet Lucy Negro, Redux and was recently commissioned to write an opera based on the autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, a Muslim-African man who was enslaved in 1807. Her most recent release, There is No Other, is a collaboration with Francesco Turrisi, and blends Arabic, European, and African American musical influences. Giddens is also featured on the critically acclaimed PBS docu-series “Ken Burns Country Music”. Giddens is a two-time recipient of Folk Alliance International’s Album of the Year award for Tomorrow is My Turn (2015) and Freedom Highway (2017).


Mark your calendar for Thursday, January 23, 2020 when Mavis Staples gives a featured interview during the 2020 conference; and Rhiannon Giddens will deliver the keynote address on Saturday, Junuary 25, 2020.