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Album: Freedom HighwayReleased: 2017
This is a track from Rhiannon Giddens' second solo studio album Freedom Highway. The record has a loose theme running through it showing different aspects of the African-American experience.
Set during the Civil War this song imagines a conversation between the woman of the house and a slave called Julie as union troops approach a plantation. The mistress begs Julie to protect their families riches, but the slave answers, mistress "That trunk of gold is what you got when my children you sold."
Giddens told Uncut: "'Julie' was the focus for me in a lot of ways, just in terms of who these women are in history who don't have voices, who don't have books written about them or movies made about them."
"Particularly in the slave experience, it's so often men who are talked about and their women are the reasons to do things, like the Nate Parker movie (The Birth of a Nation). They don't have their own agency in the stories, and that's something that has been bothering me, so all the protagonists slave narrative songs on the record are women. That was important to me."
Giddens told Uncut about the background to "Julie."
"I started writing that song some years ago," she recalled. "I read this book by Andrew Ward called The Slaves War: The Civil War In The Words Of Former Slaves, and I was moved to start writing songs. I wasn't much of a songwriter at that point. I had written a couple of exercise songs, a blues so whatever, but these songs started to come out of me. Julie was the first one. I wrote it on my banjo. It had been sitting there for a while until it just seems like the right time to do something with it."