First off, I just wanna say I have been amazed by the sheer amount of talent I’ve been able to discover over the past several weeks. Second, I hate that these artists aren’t more beloved and recognized, something I think may have something to do with their skin color (hint: it totally is). Third, every time I tried to create a radio station on Spotify with one of these artists, it would almost always default back to white country artists, which was disappointing, despite introducing me to some lesser-known country singers that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Luckily, there were already some playlists created specifically with Black artists in mind, so thank you to all the people who did the work.
But anyway, onto some amazing Black country artists with which to treat your ears:
I keep coming back to Yola, you guys. Each time I listen to another Black country artist, she just springs into my mind. Last year’s album, Walk Through Fire, is an experience. Her voice is ethereal, the combination of soul and country is seamless, and I can honestly say I’ve never heard anything like her. The first song I heard by her was actually “Faraway Look,” the first track on Walk Through Fire, and I stopped what I was doing to focus on what I was hearing, which is what you should do right the fuck now.
“9 Years Pushin’ 30” by Miko Marks had me in tears. I was able to experience a childhood, whereas so many Black children are not afforded that same opportunity. Damn, I can’t even talk about this song, even tangentially, without my eyes welling up, so you’re just going to have to listen to this. But I will say that Miko Marks puts so much emotion into all of her songs, not just the ones that discuss the righteous anger that a young boy has with the world.
I love this version of “Some Dark Holler.” (In case you’re curious, THIS is how it’s usually performed, by none other than Dwight Yoakam, who I mentioned in a previous “on rotation …”) Amythyst Kiah transposes it into a minor key and OMG does it make such a difference – this was actually the song that really struck me enough to get me to go off of the Spotify playlist and into her other music.
Now, I have actually seen Valerie June live twice now: her stage presence is electrifying and soothing simultaneously, and the next time she goes on tour, you can guarantee I will be right at the front of that stage. She hasn’t released a full album since 2017 (The Order of Time, which is from where “The Front Door” above comes), so I’m desperately hoping that quarantine has inspired her.
This post has been dominated by female Black artists for a reason – Black women too often are marginalized – but I can’t not talk about Jimmie Allen and his song “Best Shot.” I haven’t delved too deeply into his other work, but this song (and the video) give me all the feelings. He should totally be up there with the likes of Luke Bryan, Josh Turner, and Jason Aldean.
I’m really getting into Kaia Kater’s body of work, which appears to have started just a few years ago, but damn, this woman is incredible. Her soulful voice is subtle behind powerful words, and it’s paired so well with the light plucking of her banjo that you just sort of get lost as you listen. I’ve not always been a fan of bluegrass, due in part to my prejudice, but if more artists were like Kaia Kater, I’d definitely listen to it more.
I absolutely love 1970s country, and I am incredibly upset that I had no idea that Linda Martell existed. She was the first Black woman to grace the Grand Ole Opry with her talents, and she had a couple of country hits, including the above “Color Him Father,” before she decided to focus on raising her children, in addition to her own health, which was deteriorating with all the touring she was doing. She is still alive and seems to be a very private person, which is definitely her prerogative. At least we’ve got Color Me Country … you know, that’s a very iffy sounding title that sounds like it came right out of a white man’s brain …
“Black Cat Bone” is my favorite song off Jessie Mae Hemphill’s She-Wolf album (“Standing in My Doorway Crying” is a very close second), but I have listened to the album at least ten times through and could do it ten more times today if I could (and I just may). Country has its roots in blues music, and Jessie Mae’s music definitely has a much stronger blues base than a lot of the artists I’ve presented today.
I’ve really enjoyed watching B.B. (or Babeo Baggins, as they are called – check out their bandcamp, seriously) go from more of pop-focused to this gorgeous Kacey Musgraves-inspired pop-country sound (you should totally read the Fashionista article that features B.B. at the link below, btw), and I’m super looking forward to seeing what they are releasing at the end of this month … omg, only like four more days … WHERE HAS THIS YEAR GONE. Anyway, B.B.’s voice kind of reminds me of Stina Nordenstam (from the last “on rotation …”), and I love how their voice is complemented by the twang of the banjo.
Okay, so I don’t watch X Factor because I’m not a big fan of those shows, but how Willie Jones’ “Back Porch” isn’t a major song of the summer is beyond me. I actually went back and watched his performance of Josh Turner’s “Your Man” when he was just 17 years old, and OMG, this man has had talent for a very long time. He deserves to be famous for that voice of his.
And this is only ten artists that I fell in love with over the course of about three weeks. I’m still working on getting through all the suggestions friends have given me, all the Spotify playlists that people have created, and the lists I’ve found online, so I may be doing a Part Two to this at some point in the near future.
Art Credit: Guitar, Do the Bay, Rolling Stone, Ebru Yildiz, AP News, The Bluegrass Situation, National Museum of African-American Music, University of Mississippi, Fashionista, NPR, Rolling Stone