New York, NY (Top40 Charts) The Tennessean / USA Today recently shared a list of “12 Black Artists Shaping Country Music’s Future,” and Shore Fire’s Brittney Spencer, Amythyst Kiah, and Willie Jones are all included alongside Mickey Guyton, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen and others.
On live television last November, country star Maren Morris dedicated her CMA Award for Female Vocalist of the Year to a handful of Black women in country music.
One of the names shouted out? Brittney Spencer. “I was sitting on my couch in my pajamas. It sounds hilarious, but that’s actually what I was doing,” Spencer told Apple Music Country earlier this summer, adding: “Honestly it happened months ago, and I’m still not ready for it.”
A Baltimore native who moved to Nashville in 2013, Spencer’s ascent extends far behind a one-time recognition. Earlier this summer, she released a new single, “Sober & Skinny” – a showcase of tender-hearted storytelling that’s sharp-penned and relatable.
She sings, “But in a perfect world/ You get sober, I get skinny/ We live all for more than pennies/ Write the checks that we can cash.”
She’s now logged writing room hours with Amanda Shires and Morris and spent time on the road with Jason Isbell. Spencer tours with Brett Eldredge later this year.
Last month, Spencer made her Ryman Auditorium debut at the ACM Honors. She performed the Martina McBride classic “Independence Day” for songwriter Gretchen Peters, one of the night’s honorees.
In a show filled with established stars, it was one of the most buzz-worthy moments.
“I’m just excited,” she told reporters backstage. “Being able to embrace this new chapter in my life, it’s scary. But I’m gonna do it, anyway. Why not?”
“I pick the banjo up and they sneer at me, ’cause I’m black myself,” Amythyst Kiah sings on her staggering blues-rocker, “Black Myself.”
Before recording it for her 2021 album, “Wary + Strange,” the East Tennessee singer-songwriter would sing “Black Myself” with her bandmates in Our Native Daughters. A roots music supergroup, OND is comprised of four Black women — all of whom play banjo, among many other instruments – offering a powerful reminder of the instrument’s African roots.
“Between the four of us, Black women in particular have messaged us saying, ‘I started to learn the banjo because of Our Native Daughters,'” she said.
“(We’ve heard from) people of color that didn’t realize that they can listen to country music or folk music, because of how segregation informed the recording industry and separated people by race. Just to see the difference that all this is making is above and beyond my wildest dreams.”
2021 has been a breakout year for Kiah as a solo artist. “Wary + Strange” arrived in June to rave reviews, and Kiah became one of the top nominees at the Americana Music Honors & Awards show, tying mainstay Jason Isbell. She also made her debut at the Grand Ole Opry.
“I’m starting to really understand (that) I’m the person that I needed to see when I was younger,” Kiah said. “And I’m that person now for other people. It’s a big responsibility that I’m happy to take on.”
In one of the year’s most powerful country songs, singer Willie Jones delivered an “American Dream” through his eyes.
The Louisiana-raised artist belted lines about Colin Kaepernick, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., singing that he’s “proud to be a Black man/ Livin’ in the land of the brave and the free/ Yeah I’m all-American/ And that American dream ain’t cheap.”
He began writing the song last year, days after George Floyd’s killing and protesters marching against racial injustice. He said the song derived in-part from a moment in 2020 when he balked at wearing red, white and blue on Independence Day.
On the song, he’s “still reppin’ the country, but through my eyes the time that I wrote it,” Jones said.
“We all in America and we hope for better,” he told The USA TODAY Network. “This is where it came from.”
And his growing catalog of country-hip-hop doesn’t stop with a civil rights anthem. Jones released his debut album, “Right Now,” earlier this year. It’s a musical blender of polished pop-ready production with country imagery and rap influence. The album finds Jones bringing the party – especially for nights in downtown Nashville with “Bachelorettes on Broadway” — and toasting to low-key moments at home, on the timely “Back Porch.”
No song may introduce Jones’ line-blurring delivery better than “Country Soul,” an album opener that name checks Tim McGraw, T.I., Marvin Gaye and Aerosmith.
“A lot of times people try to box me in as far as my sound, but I’m bigger than what people think of me,” Jones said. “This is one of them statement ones. … This is my love for music.”
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