GREENSBORO — UNCG will award honorary degrees this spring to a pair of Grammy Award-winning musicians who studied at the university.
UNCG announced Wednesday that alumnae Rhiannon Giddens and Emmylou Harris will be recognized at commencement May 8. UNCG, like many other colleges and universities, awards honorary degrees to notable scholars, artists and civic and business leaders.
Giddens is a singer and songwriter who plays multiple instruments. She won a Grammy in 2011 as part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Durham string-band group she co-founded. Six years later she was the first Greensboro resident to be awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship — the "genius grant" presented to creative people in various fields — from the MacArthur Foundation. Giddens has been nominated for four individual Grammys, the latest of which is a Best American Roots Performance nod for her song “I’m On My Way." Grammy Awards will be announced Sunday.
A Greensboro native, Giddens graduated from the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Durham and earned her bachelor's degree from the Oberlin Conservatory at Ohio's Oberlin College, where she studied opera. She later took graduate classes in vocal performance at UNCG.
Harris is a 14-time Grammy-winner who since the 1960s has recorded dozens of country, roots and bluegrass songs and albums and performed with numerous other artists. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008. A decade later, she won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Harris grew up in northern Virginia and entered UNCG in 1965 on a drama scholarship. At UNCG, she acted in theater productions and sang at clubs on Tate Street. She left school before graduating and moved to New York City to pursue a singing career.
By the time they receive their honorary degrees, both Giddens and Harris will have given concerts at UNCG Auditorium. Giddens sang there in 2017 as part of the university's 125th anniversary celebration. Harris is scheduled to perform Friday. That show is sold out.
Giddens and Harris will be UNCG's first honorary degree recipients since 2017, when the university recognized Bill Mangum, the Greensboro painter and UNCG alumnus, and Mansukh Wani, a Research Triangle Institute chemist who's considered a pioneer in the cancer research field.
Prior recipients of UNCG honorary degrees include Tim Rice, retired CEO of Cone Health (2015), Bonnie McElveen Hunter, founder and CEO of Pace Communications in Greensboro and former U.S. ambassador to Finland (2012), High Point University President Nido Qubein (2009) and Fred Chappell, the retired UNCG English professor and former N.C. Poet Laureate (2008).
The university awarded its first honorary degree in 1939 to Florence Ellinwood Allen, the first woman judge to be appointed to a U.S. Court of Appeals.