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Silkroad Ensemble Uncovers The Transcontinental Railroad's True History

The GRAMMY Award-winning group's new series, “Train Station Trios,” highlights the impact of African American, Chinese, Irish, and Indigenous communities on the North American railways


Founded by cellist and cultural ambassador Yo-Yo Ma in 1998 as a model for cultural collaboration, Silkroad is a global musical ensemble named in honor of the historical Silk Road — an ancient trade route linking the West with the Middle East and Asia.

Silkroad’s new concert series, “Train Station Trios” is a multi-year initiative led by Artistic Director Rhiannon Giddens that highlights the impact of African American, Chinese, Irish, and Indigenous communities on the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The series’ first event “Songs & Stories of the American Railroad,” will see scholars and artists share historical insights, stories, and original music as part of Silkroad’s exploration of the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad and North American railways, as well as origins of the American Empire.

Featuring Silkroad artists violinist Mario Gotoh, bassist Edward Pérez, and percussionist Shane Shanahan, this first concert will be held on February 11, 2023, from 2 to 3 PM at the California State Railroad Museum. Tickets to the event are free with museum admission.



The performance will share untold stories from the varying communities of railway builders, who played pivotal roles in the technological and economic changes of the 19th century. Having studied the local Bay Area history of the railroad alongside guest scholar professor Anna Eng, the trio will perform a concert both inspiring and educational.

“From the beginning, an integral aspect of American Railroad has been to uncover the unseen and untold,” said Giddens. “Over the past two years, my Silkroad colleagues and I have been researching and studying, listening and learning, so that we can tell a more complete and truthful version of American history through our music. We invite audiences in California, New York, and North Carolina to join us in this process as we present the Train Station Trios concerts.” 

First made public in 2020, the American Railroad Project — running between 2021 and 2026 — is part of Silkroad’s aim to share stories through new commissions, concerts, residencies, curriculum development, and educational initiatives.

The project includes new music inspired by the history of the railroads, archival songs and tunes from railroad workers and the impacted communities, and storytelling with an emphasis on cultural ties to the area where each concert is being held. 

For more on Silkroad’s upcoming performances, click here.

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