The world is celebrating the first #1 country single written by a black woman with Luke Combs' cover of Tracy Chapman's Fast Car... but it's not quite the end of the journey if it took a white man to get it there.
Without doubt, Tracy Chapman is one of the world's great songwriters and Fast Car is one of the world's great songs. Watching the song get a new lease on life with a new generation and a new genre is an amazing thing. Having the song break the barrier of becoming the first ever US #1 country single written by a black woman is significant, but when will the record be broken by a black female singing her own song?
Here are ten black female country artists that should be on your radar. Some may be the ones to hit #1 in their own right and some will be the trail blazers that enable it to happen. Not an exhaustive list, and in no way meant to be, this is a good start for those wanting to open their minds and ears to some great new sounds from proud, black women.
1. Mickey Guyton
Embarrassingly, only five black female country artists have ever charted in the US and with only 5% of airplay going to black artists, it's a huge imbalance still to overcome. Mickey Guyton is a clear leader in the field. She was the first black woman to be nominated in the Best Country Solo Performance category at the Grammy Awards and in 2021 became the first black woman to co-host the Academy of Country Music Awards. Never one to take a backwards step, Guyton released Black Like Me in the wake of the George Floyd protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.
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2. Loren Ryan
Australian singer Loren Ryan broke her own barriers earlier this year, winning the Toyota Starmaker competition in Tamworth. The Gamilaraay woman told Countrytown in an interview just prior to her win that black artists were making their mark across all genres of music. "If you're the last to champion First Nations acts, you're going to be old news. The time is now to make a difference-- to be a mover and shaker for inclusivity." You can read her whole interview here. And check out her brand new single Suddenly.
3. Rissi Palmer
American country singer Rissi Palmer became the first black woman in twenty years to appear on the Billboard Country Charts in 2007. An amazing feat that kicked the door back open for artists to follow, the song Country Girl was a chart success, but unfortunately the album that followed was her last until she re-emerged in 2015 after legal issues with her label. Speaking in 2021 when the video made its way back online, Palmer said "All I can say is, artists...own your masters, and business owners, pay and give credit when it’s due." We've clearly still got a way to go. Luckily Palmer is back with a new single Still Here released earlier this year.
The UK isn't always the first place people think of when they think of country, but the burgeoning scene over there has brought amazing talent like Yola to the world. Emerging in 2019, Yola was nominated for four grammys for her debut album Walk Through Fire, including Best Americana Album. Her latest album Stand For Myself in 2021 was equally impressive with her amazing voice weaving through a unique blend of country and soul. She also starred in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis biopic, earning an American Music Award for the soundtrack.
5. Brittney Spencer
Brittney Spencer is one of the new guard of American country. Getting a shout out from Maren Morris in 2020 after Tweeting a video of herself performing, the amazing young artist has since released two EPs and received CMA and CMT nominations. She signed a major label deal in late 2022 with Elektra and the world is keenly awaiting her debut album.
6. Linda Martell
While its important to focus on the future, it's also worth respecting the past and Linda Martell's place in American country music history cannot be understated. In 1970, Martell released the album Color Me Country, making the trailblazing artist the first successful black female in US country history. She was the first black female to play at the Grand Ole Opry and influenced the careers of countless black women in country music.
7. Auriel Andrew
Auriel Andrew emerged in Australia around the same time that Linda Martell was blazing trails in the US. Her debut EP Truck Driving Woman was released in 1970 and she was a regular on Australian variety television in the 70s. She was awarded the Tamworth Hall of Fame in 1991, has lifetime achievement recognitions from the Deadly and National Indigenous Music Awards and was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2011. Andrew passed away in 2017 at the age of 69.
8. Jade Turner
Canadian First Nations singer Jade Turner is from Misipawistik Cree Nation (known in English as Grand Rapids) but was raise in Manitoba. She has two albums to date as well as a number of great singles. Her latest Deadweight is just a month old, but we couldn't go past a hit from her first album.... This Song Sucks.
9. Julie Williams
Tipped to be one of the next big things in country music, Julie Williams was inducted in the CMT Next Women of Country Class of 2023 in January 2023, joining Kacey Musgraves, Lainey Wilson, Lauren Alaina, Madeline Edwards, Maren Morris and Morgan Wade. A country, pop, soul mix that is tailor made for the current pop moment that country is currently having, Williams is set to cross barriers.
10. Sue Ray
Toowoomba country and blues singer Sue Ray has three Queensland Music Awards to her name along with eight records. She's recorded in Nashville, toured Australia relentlessly and had a great career over nearly two decades.