In honor of Black History Month this year, The Nash News is highlighting five iconic black country artists through the decades.
1. Linda Martell
During the late 1960s, Linda was a country music pioneer and paved the way for Black country artists. Her music carries a rich voice and moving harmony. Those who know of Martell, best know her for being the first African-American female singer to perform at the Grand Ole Opry – an uber-famous country music venue. She achieved three songs on the Billboard country chart during her music career, appearing on her only album, Color Me Country. Since her time as an active performer, she has been honored with the CMT Equal Play Award. This act recognizes the legacy Martell reated and her inspiration for other Black artists.
2. Charley Pride
One of the more known artists from Black country music is the groundbreaking Charley Pride. He broke racial barriers from the 1960s through the 1980s by showing off his talent as a Black country music artist. His third song release, “Just Between You and Me,” joined the Billboard country’s Top Ten. Pride’s fame skyrocketed and led him to twenty-nine #1 country hits. He has achieved many honors throughout his years, such as being named CMA Entertainer of the Year (1971) and being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (1993). The late Charley Pride inspires newer Black country artists such as Mickey Guyton.
3. Rhiannon Giddens
A more recent Black country artist is Rhiannon Giddens, who actively works with music that revives Black history. During the 2000s, she co-founded an old-time string band called Carolina Chocolate Drops. The band’s album Genuine Negro Jig highlighted Africa’s role in American music and went on to win a Grammy Award in 2010 for Traditional Folk Album. Ghiddens is now part of the folk band Our Native Daughters, which creates music telling stories of Black womanhood. She passionately continues to create music that reclaims Black female history and, in doing so, educates her listeners. Her recent song, composed by herself, “I’m On My Way,” shows the masterful storytelling that Rhiannon carries in her music.
4. Darius Rucker
Initially a member of Hootie and the Blowfish, Rucker turned to country music, creating meaningful and genuine work. His first country single, which he co-wrote, titled “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” (2008), achieved the No. 1 spot on the Billboard country chart. The last Black performer to achieve a high record was Charley Pride in 1983. Rucker was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in 2012 and later was inducted as a member. In 2013 he won a Grammy Award for Best Country Solo Performance. Rucker’s success as a Black artist has encouraged other aspiring Black people to follow their passions.
5. Amythyst Kiah
One of the newer artists in country music is Amythyst Kiah, a young queer Black woman. Kiah is a musician and vocalist who provides a distinctive shine with her sound. Her hit song “Black Myself” was Grammy-nominated for Best American Roots Song. She recently joined the band Our Native Daughters, with Rhiannon Giddens, Allison Russell, and Leyla McCalla. The four create music that recenters Black history. The music that Amythyst produces involves a strong melody accompanied with powerful messages interwoven. She carries an outward look on life and looks forward to inspiring other Black and queer artists just as those who inspired her before her.
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