Rhiannon Giddens performs ‘Julie,’ a song inspired by a slave’s story

Rhiannon Giddens performs “Julie,” a song inspired by a conversation between a slave and her mistress during the Civil War. Video by Frank Carlson and Mike Fritz

Singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens is the first to admit that she’s big into history, and in particular the history of the South and the Civil War.

In the video above she performs “Julie,” which she wrote after reading “The Slaves’ War,” by Andrew Ward, a book that draws on hundreds of primary and secondary sources to recount the Civil War from the perspective of a the slaves. Included is a story of conversation between a mistress and her slave as the Union Army was set to liberate her plantation.

“And it struck me really forcibly hard — that idea of the complicated relationship between the owners and what they thought of as their property, but were actually in so many ways their family,” Giddens said. “It just really struck me how in the institution of slavery … no matter how it seems like one group of people wins, everybody loses.”

Giddens, who for years toured as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, is now touring to promote her new solo album, “Tomorrow Is My Turn.” She performed “Julie” at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville, Tennessee, while there for the Big Ears Music Festival.

Watch Chief Arts Correspondent Jeffrey Brown’s full profile of Giddens and her new album on Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour.