Sure, millions of people tuned in to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday night and a couple million more flipped over just to watch Usher perform during the halftime show. But what really broke the internet in the hours after the big game was the fact that Beyoncé, Queen Bey herself, announced a new album set to come out next month, and dropped two singles off of it on Sunday night.
And credited on one of those songs — “Texas Hold ‘Em” — is local legend, songwriting and banjo-playing genius, Rhiannon Giddens herself.
The new album, which is set to come out on March 29 — enter squealing sounds here — is Beyonce’s first country album, which she’s been teasing since her country-tinged songs on 2016’s Lemonade. And who better than the bluegrass maven Giddens to play the opening notes of the single?
On Facebook, Giddens wrote about the collaboration, saying, “I woke up yesterday morning to new music from Beyoncé, featuring none other than my banjo and viola playing throughout. On the heels of her SUPER BOWL commercial album announcement, her single “Texas Hold ‘Em” is the first off her new country record, #actii.”
“The beginning is a solo riff on my minstrel banjo – and my only hope is that it might lead a few more intrepid folks into the exciting history of the banjo,” Giddens continues. “I used to say many times as soon as Beyoncé puts the banjo on a track my job is done. Well, I didn’t expect the banjo to be mine, and I know darn well my job isn’t done, but today is a pretty good day.”
Elsewhere on Facebook, a fan tagged the Greensboro native stating, “I thought that banjo on ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ sounded familiar — how awesome to hear you playing on a Beyoncé song!”
The single banjo line, plucked and punchy and played by Giddens, intros the song before a second line joins in right before Beyonce’s mezzo-soprano voice offers the first lyrics: “This ain’t Texas, ain’t no hold ‘em. So lay our cards down, down, down, down.”
Giddens, who won a Grammy in 2011 for her work as part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and again in 2022 for her album with Francesco Turrisi, They’re Calling Me Home, is a prolific artist who weaves her Southern roots throughout her music. And she’s been doing it a long time.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops debuted their first album, Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind, in 2006 and dropped six more until the band stopped regularly performing together in 2014. That same year, Giddens started focusing on solo work and has since released five albums, two of them with Turrisi.
In addition to straight recording work, Giddens has created music for a ballet and a video game and also starred in Porgy and Bess, an opera in 2022. Oh, and she won the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2017.
So it’s no wonder that she’s creating work with Beyoncé now, even if she doesn’t necessarily aspire to the latter’s level of fame. In a previous interview with TCB, Giddens talked about how her life’s work has impacted her level of recognizability.
“I have just the amount of fame I could ever want,” she told TCB in 2021. “I’m not Beyoncé. I have enough fans to keep me going if I want to do shows. I am called upon by people I admire, offered platforms by organizations I respect. I’m really happy with that, and that I’ve gotten there without compromising who I am.”
The forthcoming album reflects Beyoncé’s Southern roots, too. Hailing from Houston, Texas, the worldwide phenom has always harkened back to her hometown. And judging from her past works, the album will feature a prominent cast of Black artists who, in and of themselves, have helped to shape Southern music. And that’s been the throughline of Giddens’ work as well. Reclaiming the banjo and telling the history of Black musicians in the South is kind of what Giddens is known for.
“Obviously most of my career has been excavating and illuminating and finding things that have been covered over or erased,” Giddens said in 2021. “A lot of that has to do with African-American history, that African-American piece of American history — it is all American history, you know?”
So when Beyoncé announced a country album, who better to collaborate with than Giddens who has been making the case for Black, Southern roots all this time?
And I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of two artists better positioned to get me to “boogie” and “take it to the floor.”
Beyoncé’s new album drops March 29. Listen to “Texas Hold ‘Em on streaming platforms now. Read all of TCB’s past coverage of Giddens here.
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