Photo credit for source images (L-R): Matthew Berinato, Matthew Berinato, Phylicia J.L. Munn, John Shearer
(L-R): Willie Jones, Kane Brown, Mickey Guyton, Brittney Spencer, Jimmie Allen
5 Black Artists Rewriting Country Music: Mickey Guyton, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, Brittney Spencer & Willie Jones
Despite inventing country music, Black artists have historically been marginalized in that sphere. That's all changing in the 21st century with the help of country music stars like Mickey Guyton, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, Brittney Spencer & Willie Jones.
2021 has introduced a dynamic change to American life that has aggressively called into question stereotypes surrounding race, gender and culture. And there may be no better lens through which to examine this development than in country music.
For almost a century, the Appalachia-born genre, more than almost any other subset of American popular music, has largely excluded Black artists and performers. However, the roots of country music lay in the hands of banjo-playing Black slaves and minstrel-show performing sharecroppers.
Still, for well over 50 years, the only Black artist significantly represented in the country music industry was the late Charley Pride, who died last December. The Mississippi-born sharecropper turned All-Star Negro League pitcher's ability to navigate his way around a country song led to four dozen-plus top 10 Billboard Country chart hits (including the 1971 classic "Kiss An Angel Good Morning") and worldwide appeal.
Today, in an era partly defined by reparational justice toward African-Americans nationwide, country music contains numerous performers whose tireless efforts in the genre are now being rewarded. Of the growing crowd, Mickey Guyton, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, Brittney Spencer, and Willie Jones have all received Pride-level applause for their successes within country music.
Country's Next Great Torch Singer: Mickey Guyton
From Patsy Cline to Carrie Underwood, country music has a tradition of white female vocalists whose impressive vocal control and electrifying histrionics elevate superb songwriting to award-winning levels.
Comparatively, warm, soulful singers like Linda Martell and Rissi Palmer have opened doors for Black female country performers.
For those looking for a marriage of the two, Mickey Guyton—a veteran country artist buoyed by the pained yet profound inspiration of the Black Lives Matter movement—married her multi-octave superstar vocal instrument to the poignant ballad "Black Like Me" and has soared to top-tier country acclaim. Her new album, Remember Her Name, drops on September 24.
Country music is often maligned because of its inability to address issues of race and gender in a manner that befits the tenor of progressive times. However, Guyton's now-signature song overcame the genre's historical slights against marginalized communities. What's more, it reflects country music's slow, continued moves toward justice for them.
A "Worldwide Beautiful" Superstar In The Making: Kane Brown
Kane Brown is the type of artist as comfortable making modernized trap-style country ballads (2020's "Be Like That," featuring Swae Lee) as he is covering the neo-traditionalist Randy Travis' classic "Three Wooden Crosses."
His head—frequently topped with an adjustable trucker hat—has growing ears, eyes and music-biz savvy. Recently, the trailer-park-raised Chattanooga, Tennessee, native launched a new label, Sony-backed 1021 Entertainment—plus a song publishing company, Verse 2 Entertainment.
However, if looking for the accurate measurement of Brown's cross-cultural reach, "Worldwide Beautiful" drives home why Brown is a star of note, with an extraordinarily passionate social media following to boot.
When he sings, "At every show I see my people/They ain't the same, but they're all equal/One love, one God, one family," his rich tenor conveys a unifying message that supersedes today's American frustrations and antagonism.
The Hometown Hero: Jimmie Allen
Country music loves stories of self-made small-town boys with humble dreams that shine under Music City's downtown Broadway lights.
To wit, rising country star Jimmie Allen is a native—and still, proudly a resident—of Milton, Delaware, a town populated by a hair below 3,000 people. His new album, Bettie James Gold Edition—an expansion of his Bettie James project—dropped in June.
Within the first five years of his country career, Allen's achieved two platinum-selling, number-one Billboard Country Airplay chart singles (2018's "Best Shot" and 2019's "Make Me Want To"), plus recently became the first Black artist to win the New Male Artist of the Year award at 2021's Academy of Country Music Awards.
It's also notable how Allen carries forth Charley Pride's legacy. In a 2020 interview for Holler, the vocalist noted that the Country Music Hall of Famer taught him that if he made the music he loved, "It'll land on the ears and hearts of the people who are supposed to hear it."
"[That advice] clicked," he replied. "Ever since, I really got the confidence to just kind of fall in my groove of what I do."
Your Favorite Singer/Songwriter's Favorite Singer/Songwriter: Brittney Spencer
Baltimore, Maryland's Brittney Spencer writes from a place of deeply ingrained spiritual inspirations, and her style is borne from years spent as a churchgoing Episcopal church choir member and musical arranger.
Equally, it's inspired by having a friend introduce her to the music of the Chicks as a teenager. Just like the band whose 1998 song "Wide Open Spaces" is a crossover country classic, Spencer's music is cut from the same cloth.
On songs like the 2020 Compassion EP single "Sorrys Don't Work No More," lyrics like "I called you up in August, hoping I could be honest/But you never let me speak" hurt more than they rhyme—which is a rare talent.
That skill is not only apparent in Spencer's forthcoming material, but in writers' rooms with the likes of a diverse slate of country performers including Allen, Maren Morris, Brandy Clark and Jason Isbell.
Overall, it's simply a case of if—and not when—Spencer's acclaim will grow.
The Country-Trap Iconoclast: Willie Jones
No artist in the pop-country realm more uniquely highlights the diverse presentations allowed when welcoming more artists of color into the mainstream conversation than Shreveport, Louisiana's Willie Jones.
Suppose a Venn diagram space existed wherein early 2Pac's blend of earnestness and braggadocio blended with Kenny Chesney's desire to kick off his shoes and relax with a drink. In that case, the 26-year old singer-songwriter would occupy it.
From one side of his mouth emerges "American Dream," his critically-acclaimed 2021 civil rights anthem that includes the lyrics, "When you're livin' as a Black man/It's a different kinda American dream."
However, on the other side of the coin, you've got "Down By The Riverside," his Southern, countrified 2021 party track about corn, cotton and crawfish.
Photo: Ron Howard/Redferns
John Lennon, Sting, Alicia Keys: 7 Songs For Starting Over In 2018
With hits from Leonard Cohen, the Byrds, Nina Simone, and more, find the motivation for a brand-new you this New Year
Each New Year offers the opportunity for a fresh new start, whether you're looking to wash away the sins of the previous year or reinvent a better future that follows your ultimate dreams. Starting over isn't an easy task, but we have one recommendation that will help motivate you: music.
Don't be a fuddy duddy. Kick-start 2018 with this playlist of seven songs all about starting over, including hits from John Lennon, the Byrds, Sting, and Alicia Keys, among others.
1. The Byrds, "Turn! Turn! Turn!"
Starting with its lyrics, "To everything (turn, turn, turn)/There is a season," this GRAMMY Hall Of Fame classic is a great reminder that everything is always changing anyway, so now is as good a time as any to give something new a chance. The composition was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, but the lyrics come almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. The song didn't hit it big until the Byrds got their turn at it in 1965. Reportedly, it took Roger McGuinn & Co. 78 takes to perfect their folk-rock arrangement.
2. Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"
GRAMMY winner Leonard Cohen had a knack for poetry powerful enough to move mountains, and his "Anthem" is one such gem. This 1992 tune about embracing imperfection and marching forward in the face of adversity contains one of Cohen's most-quoted lines: "Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." And we'll leave you with one final line from the master that encapsulates starting over: "The birds they sing, at the break of day/Start again, I heard them say/Don't dwell on what has passed away/Or what is yet to be."
3. Gil Scott-Heron, "I'm New Here"
Taken from his 2010 album of the same name, "I'm New Here" came near the end of Gil Scott-Heron's storied life. The album saw Scott-Heron, according to Drowned In Sound's Robert Ferguson, "pick over the bones of his life, acknowledging the hard times and his own mistakes, but standing proud of all they have led him to become." Embodying this sentiment accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Scott-Heron's bluesy, semi-spoken "I'm New Here" brings out the poignancy of change. Its key lyric, "No matter how far wrong you've gone/You can always turn around," is something to keep in mind year-round, let alone January.
4. Alicia Keys, "Brand New Me"
Alicia Keys went full bore on the empowering messages of her 2012 album, Girl On Fire — the Best R&B Album winner at the 56th GRAMMY Awards — including the track, "Brand New Me." Co-written with singer/songwriter Emeli Sandé, the soft pop/R&B ballad describes growing as a person and becoming a brand-new version of yourself. "Brand new me is about the journey it takes to get to a place where you are proud to be a new you," Keys wrote on her website at the time of the song's release.
5. John Lennon, "(Just Like) Starting Over"
A quintessential start-anew song, former Beatle John Lennon included "(Just Like) Starting Over" on his GRAMMY-winning 1980 album, Double Fantasy. "(Just Like) Starting Over" was the album's first single because Lennon felt it best represented his return following a five-year hiatus from music. It's also a love song, but the theme of starting over has a universal resonance "It's time to spread our wings and fly/Don't let another day go by my love/It'll be just like starting over." It became Lennon's second chart-topping single in the U.S., reaching No. 1 after his death on Dec. 8, 1980.
6. Nina Simone, "Feeling Good"
"It's a new dawn/It's a new day/It's a new life for me/I'm feelin' good." Could you ask for better lyrics for embarking on a new journey? Nina Simone recorded her version of "Feeling Good," which was originally written for the musical "The Roar Of The Greasepaint — The Smell Of The Crowd," on her 1965 album I Put A Spell On You. While artists such as Michael Bublé, John Coltrane, George Michael, and Muse subsequently covered it, no alternative is quite as powerful — or soulful — as Simone's.
7. Sting, "Brand New Day"
Sting's "Brand New Day" has a lesson for inspiring motivation to start the New Year with fresh eyes: "Turn the clock to zero, buddy/Don't wanna be no fuddy-duddy/We started up a brand new day." The bright, catchy pop tune and its namesake 1999 album resonated with fans, landing it at No. 9 on the Billboard 200. The track (and album) earned Sting GRAMMYs — Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Album — at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards.
Whitney Houston, 29th GRAMMY Awards
Apple Music Exclusive: Watch Classic GRAMMY Performances
The Recording Academy teams with Apple Music to offer historical GRAMMY performances by Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Shania Twain, Kendrick Lamar, and more
To celebrate the GRAMMY Awards' 60th anniversary and the show's return to New York for the first time in 15 years, the Recording Academy and Apple Music are bringing fans a special video collection of exclusive GRAMMY performances and playlists that represent the illustrious history of Music's Biggest Night.
Available exclusively via Apple Music in a dedicated GRAMMYs section, the celebratory collection features 60-plus memorable performances specifically curated across six genres: pop, rap, country, rock, R&B, and jazz.
The artist performances featured in the collection include Marvin Gaye, "Sexual Healing" (25th GRAMMY Awards, 1983); Whitney Houston, "Greatest Love Of All" (29th GRAMMY Awards, 1987); Run DMC, "Tougher Than Leather" (30th GRAMMY Awards, 1988); Miles Davis, "Hannibal" (32nd GRAMMY Awards, 1990); Shania Twain, "Man, I Feel Like A Woman" (41st GRAMMY Awards, 1999); Dixie Chicks, "Landslide" (45th GRAMMY Awards, 2003); Bruno Mars and Sting, "Locked Out Of Heaven" and "Walking On The Moon" (55th GRAMMY Awards, 2013); and Kendrick Lamar, "The Blacker The Berry" (58th GRAMMY Awards, 2016).
The 60th GRAMMY Awards will take place at New York City's Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018. The telecast will be broadcast live on CBS at 7:30–11 p.m. ET/4:30–8 p.m. PT.
Carrie Underwood, John Legend To Host "GRAMMYs Greatest Stories"
Dolly Parton in 2019
Photo: Mickey Bernal/WireImage/Getty Images
Poll: What's Your Favorite Dolly Parton Song?
In celebration of Netflix's 'Dolly Parton: A MusiCares Tribute' out April 7, we want to know your best-loves Dolly Parton tune. From "9 to 5" to "Jolene," which one is your favorite?
This year, country legend Dolly Parton turned 75, won her 10th career GRAMMY Award and received her Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which she helped fund with a generous $1 million donation to Nashville's Vanderbilt University Medical Center last year. This week brings more Dolly news as Dolly Parton: A MusiCares Tribute will debut on Netflix, sharing her 2019 Person of the Year tribute concert publicly for the first time.
In celebration of all the wonderful things Dolly has brought into our lives, we want to know what your favorite song of hers is in our latest poll. Vote below, and make sure to tune into the star-studded Dolly tribute concert on Netflix on April 7.
Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Mel Tillis, Legendary Country Singer/Songwriter, Dies
Songwriter who wrote hits for Kenny Rogers, Tom Jones and Brenda Lee dies at age 85
Mel Tillis, one of the more prolific singer/songwriters in country music history, died Nov. 19 following a battle with intestinal issues. He was 85 years old.
With a catalog of more than 1,000 songs, Tillis released more than 60 LPs over his six-decade-plus career. In the 1970s, Tillis hit a stride with a string of country chart smashes, including "Good Woman Blues," "Heart Healer" and "Coca Cola Cowboy."
What a truly devastating loss. I loved Mel. I will miss him terribly. My thoughts and prayers to all his family.— Blake Shelton (@blakeshelton) November 19, 2017
In addition to his successful solo career, Tillis wrote a variety of hits for artists such as Brenda Lee ("Emotions"), Webb Pierce ("I'm Tired"), Kenny Rogers ("Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town"), Charley Pride ("The Snakes Crawl At Night"), George Strait ("Thoughts Of A Fool"), Ricky Skaggs ("Honey, Open That Door"), and Tom Jones ("Detroit City"), among others.
Mel Tillis was old school. He said what he thought in his songs & they meant something. Any group needs a song that puts them on the map & the First Edition had that w/ "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town," thanks to Mel. We will always be thankful for that. I'll miss Mel a lot. pic.twitter.com/NLuACgRzkX— Kenny Rogers (@_KennyRogers) November 20, 2017