Where Are The Black Women Of Country Music?
10 Black female artists you should be listening to
At a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is globally calling us to act upon the suppression of Black people and culture in society, the Country music industry has to accept a responsibility to do the same.
We wouldn’t have Country music today without it’s Black origins: from instruments to vocal and instrumental techniques, African and African American traditions were instrumental in forming the genre. For example, the banjo was invented by Southern Blacks (which musicologists have found is based on the gnoni and xalam that were brought to America by enslaved West Africans during the 1700s). The banjo was appropriated and spread through minstrel and blackface shows, which became vital in the development of hillbilly music (later rebranded as ‘Country music’). Some of Country’s most loved songs were originally performed by African-American artists, take for instance Elvis Presley’s rendition of Hound Dog. The track was originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton, who received no credit for decades after the song’s huge success. Additionally, some of Country’s greatest artists were taught all that they know from Black musicians- including Hank Williams (mentored by Rufus “Tee Tot” Payn) and Johnny Cash (mentored by Gus Canon). Both Williams and Cash would go on to enjoy meteoric success, that the industry would never allow Payn and Canon to experience.
With Country music being so saturated in Black history and experience, where are all of today’s Black women of Country?
Where Country Music Excludes Women, It Erases Black Women
Can you name 10 contemporary women artists in Country music? Out of those women, how many were Black? Black women have all but been erased from the genre, at least as far as commercial success is concerned:
– The Country Music Hall of Fame currently has 139 members, only 20 of the members are women, and none of them are Black women.
– Since the Country Music Awards were first presented in 1967, no black woman has ever won an award.
– Of Billboard’s top 50 Country Artists of 2019 (calculated by radio airplay + sales data + streaming data), 4 were women and none were black women.
– In Country Music Charts history, only 4 Black women solo artists and one all-female Black group have ever charted (Linda Martell, The Pointer Sisters, Donna Mason, Rissi Palmer and Mickey Guyton)
– No Black woman has ever had a Country song chart in the top 10.
Not only are these figures shocking, they were not easily found online. The above might make you think that Black women in Country barely exist, however, this isn’t the case. Where the Country music industry largely excludes women, it erases Black women. When I was researching some of the figures, the top suggested Google question was ‘Who is the black female country singer?’. Who is the
Black female country singer, suggesting that people think there is only one in the genre. Google’s answer was Mickey Guyton.
It is rare to see any Black women in Country given mainstream attention; whether on Country radio, Country magazine/TV interviews, or on social media. When Black women are given mainstream attention, they are rarely given the level of attention they deserve, and their commercial success is far more modest than it should be for the calibre of talent and work they have produced. There are many Black women of Country finding success outside the mainstream Country scene, but why is the industry happy to exclude talent that it should be celebrating?
I have listed 10 brilliant Black women of Country music that you should be listening to- if you aren’t already.
10 Black Women Of Country You Should Know About
1. Mickey Guyton
In 2015, Mickey Guyton made Country Aircheck history when her single, Better Than You Left Me, became the single highest one-week add total for a debut first single. Guyton has enjoyed some commercial success, with three of her songs charting and receiving a nomination for an ACMA in 2016 (New Female Vocalist of the Year). However, Guyton deserves more recognition for her lyrical content, which often delivers much needed social commentary.
Writer’s Pick: Mickey Guyton’s single, Black Like Me
If you love Country-Soul, Yola is your woman. If you don’t love Country-Soul, you might be missing out on one of the best artists Country has to offer.
Yola has been making her mark on the Country scene. Yola’s debut album Walk Through the Fire was nominated for three Grammy Awards, she has served as an unofficial member of The Highway Women and opened up for Kacey Musgraves on her Oh, What A World tour in North America. To top all of this off, Yola has been cast as legendary Sister Rosetta Tharpe, in Baz Lurhmann’s adaptation of Elvis Presley’s life.
Writer’s Pick: It Ain’t Easier, from the album Walk Through the Fire. If you want to really be blown away, listen to Yola sing it live.
3. Valerie June
When Bob Dylan was asked what artists he listened to and respected, Valerie June was one of the names he mentioned. It’s no wonder then, that Rolling Stone magazine named her 2017 album, The Order Of Time, as one of the top 50 albums of 2017. The New York Times also stated that June was one of America’s ‘most intriguing, fully formed new talents.’ Valerie June somehow manages to be classic and novel in the same breath. Many of her songs have a mystical quality, with something to learn and something to question.
Writer’s Pick: Trials, Troubles, Tribulations, from the album, Pushin’ Against A Stone. Listen to this song with a pair of good headphones to fully enjoy the delicateness of the instrumentation and vocals.
4. Priscilla Renea
If you don’t know Priscilla Renea as a Country artist, you most certainly will know songs that she has written for other artists. Hello- Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood’s Somethin bad, Rihanna’s California King Bed, and Pitbull’s Timber, along with songs for Madonna, Little Mix and Selena Gomez. With this level of songwriting talent and success, Renea is an artist that the Country music scene should be sharing and celebrating.
Writer’s Pick: If I Ever Loved You, from the album Coloured.
5. Rhiannon Giddens
Rhiannon Giddens is a 6 time Grammy nominee. Giddens performs as part of the Folk supergroup, Our Native Daughters. Their album, Songs Of Our Native Daughters was created ‘as part of a larger movement to reclaim the black female history’ of America. Giddens also formed and performed as part of the Grammy award winning Carolina Chocolate drops. The Carolina Chocolate Drops were the first black string band to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. As a solo Artist, Giddens received critical acclaim, and last year her collaboration with Francesco Turrisi, (There Is No Other (2019)) was nominated for a Grammy.
Writer’s Pick: Angel City, from the album Tomorrow Is My Turn
6. Sasha Morfaw
One half of Country duo, Jasha (Josh & Sasha), Sasha Morfaw hails from North Carolina and found her voice singing at Church. When she reached her teens, Sasha fell in love with the storytelling of Country music, along with its imagery and emotion. Once she found her love of Country, she never looked back- even though her friends thought she was crazy! This should come as no surprise, as Sasha has perfected the art of storytelling with her moving vocals, and effortless ability to pull out an array of emotions with her diverse tones. Only at the start of her journey, Sasha Morfaw is a Country artist to get excited about! You can check out her weekly Country covers as part of @jasha on Instagram.
Writer’s Pick: Jasha’s cover of Strawberry Wine
7. Rissi Palmer
In 2007, Rissi Palmer’s Country Girl was the first Country song to chart by an African American woman in 20 years, the previous being Donna Mason in 1987. Palmer’s Country cover of Jordan Sparks’ No Air, also made the Country charts. While Rissi Palmer has since been absent from the Country charts, she has continued to make chart worthy Country music and her 2019 album, Revival is a prime example of Palmer’s talent in the genre.
Writer’s Pick: Seeds, from the album, Revival. To truly appreciate the artistry and message of this song, listen while watching the song’s music video.
8. Ashlie Amber
Ashlie Amber is not new to the music scene, but she is fresh on the Country scene. Having a start in musical theatre, Amber landed roles in productions such as RENT, The Color Purple and Avenue Q. Influenced by Whitney Houston, Amber also created her own headline show, I Will Always Love You. Now, Ashlie Amber is bursting onto the Country scene, and you better be ready.
Writer’s pick: Ashlie Amber’s debut single, Almost Love
9. Brittany Howard
Singer/songwriter of the Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard is a powerhouse of soul meets rock and roll. Loved by Beyonce, Childish Gambino and Drake, Alabama Shakes music has left its mark on some of the industry’s biggest names. Their 2015 album Sound & Color, debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 in the US, and went on to win three Grammy Awards. Brittany has taken a break from the Alabama Shakes, and her work as a solo artist is just as notable. Her solo album, Jaime, debuted in 2019 to critical acclaim.
Writer’s Pick: Stay High from the album, Jaime
10. Simeon Hammond Dallas
Simeon Hammond Dallas is a UK based singer-songwriter. Simeon has travelled Europe, busking with her guitar and upon her return to the UK she has been entertaining London on the Southbank, the Underground, and train stations by day. A fresh, young take on Country, Simeon’s voice is equal parts melancholic and powerful, making her music a soothing balm for a broken heart.
Writer’s Pick: Simeon Hammond Dallas’ single, Eat
Bonus Artist: Melissa Barrison
While Melissa Barrison isn’t exclusively a Country singer, she is a phenomenal fiddle / electric violinist who takes Country music to another level. She has played for Rhianna and opened for artists such as Cee Lo Green, Pepper, POD and The Killers. Barrison has even made an appearance on Ellen. Melissa Barrison makes playing the violin/fiddle a performance worthy of it’s own show, and her covers of Country favourites as well as her originals are well worth checking out on her instagram @melissabarrison.
Writer’s Pick: Melissa Barrison’s cover of The Devil Went Down To Georgia
There are many more Black women of Country, and I hope this inspires you to discover the abundance of brilliant artists out there. In the meantime, it is our responsibility to keep asking, where are the Black women of Country?
Article written by Honor Logan (twitter.com/honorlogan3)