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5 Black Artists Rewriting Country Music: Mickey Guyton, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, Brittney Spencer & Willie Jones

(L-R): Willie Jones, Kane Brown, Mickey Guyton, Brittney Spencer, Jimmie Allen

Photo credit for source images (L-R): Matthew Berinato, Matthew Berinato, Phylicia J.L. Munn, John Shearer

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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.

GRAMMYs/Jul 26, 2021 - 10:30 pm

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.

Read More: For Charley Pride, Black Country Music Was A Self-Evident Truth

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 MorrisBrandy 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.

Let Me Play The Answers: 8 Jazz Artists Honoring Black Geniuses

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.

 

Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

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Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 GRAMMY.com

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or ticketing@grammy.com.

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske
Seattle

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards