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Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell

musician, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, to an African American mother Deborah A. Jamieson and a white father, David Monroe Giddens, both of whom had some Native American heritage as well. Giddens became a central figure in the early-twenty-first-century movement to reclaim the banjo's roots in southern black communities, where it was once a musical mainstay, and its greater historical lineage in Africa.

As a youngster, Giddens was exposed to a variety of musical influences. Her parents listened to bluegrass, classic blues, and jazz, and her father sometimes sang folk music around town. Nonetheless, she came late to the realization that music would be her consuming passion.

Through much of her education at one of North Carolina's few surviving predominantly black high schools, and the prestigious North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Giddens focused on becoming a computer animator. The turning point was her 1994 ...