Top listeners:

skip_previous skip_next
00:00 00:00
playlist_play chevron_left
  • cover play_arrow

    HYFIN Connecting The Culture

  • play_arrow

    Rhythm Lab Radio Redefining the Urban Sound

  • play_arrow

    Discovering her past: Element uncovers her roots through African Ancestry DNA testing Tarik Moody


Discover 11 Black women Country artists worthy of Beyoncé’s spotlight

todayFebruary 21, 2024

share close
photo via

In the ever-evolving tapestry of country music, Beyoncé’s latest triumphs have spotlighted the genre’s embrace of diversity and the profound influence of Black female artists. Beyoncé’s chart-topping single “Texas Hold ’Em” has etched her name as the first Black woman to secure the top position on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. This groundbreaking achievement underscores the shifting dynamics within the country’s music industry.

Her concurrent release, “16 Carriages,” also made a notable splash, debuting at No. 9 on the same chart. These entries not only signify Beyoncé’s inaugural appearance on the Hot Country Songs chart but also herald her introduction to the Country Airplay chart, where “Texas Hold ’Em” debuted at No. 54. Beyoncé’s impact is a modern chapter in a long-standing narrative, one that includes pioneering Black women like Elizabeth Cotten and Etta Baker, whose seminal contributions to country music’s sound and technique were often overlooked due to the prevailing racial and gender biases of their times. Cotten’s innovative “Cotten picking” style and Baker’s mastery of the Piedmont blues guitar have left an indelible mark on musicians across various genres, helping to shape the sounds we celebrate today.

This milestone follows Tracy Chapman’s historic achievement last year when she became the first Black woman to reach No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart as the sole songwriter with Luke Combs’ rendition of her song “Fast Car.”

Both “Texas Hold ’Em” and “16 Carriages” herald from Beyoncé’s highly anticipated eighth solo studio album, Renaissance Act II, which will be released on March 29. Beyoncé’s success highlights her artistic versatility and influence and serves as a potent reminder of country music’s progressive nature and the critical role of diverse voices within the genre.

As we applaud Beyoncé’s trailblazing contributions to country music, it is essential to also recognize the ongoing efforts of other Black women in the industry. Artists like Valerie June, with her hauntingly beautiful melodies, and Mickey Guyton, a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion, are actively reshaping the genre’s boundaries and challenging its conventional norms. This exploration into the work of these extraordinary artists is not only a celebration of their talents but also a call to action for equal recognition and support. Their artistry adds to the rich diversity of country music and continues to push the conversation on inclusivity, representation, and the significance of welcoming a variety of voices and sounds into the country music fold.

History of Black Women’s Contributions to Country Music

The history of Black women in country music is a narrative of resilience, innovation, and profound influence, often unfolding in the shadow of systemic barriers. From the foundational sounds of the banjo, with its African origins, to the pioneering artistry of Elizabeth Cotten and Etta Baker, Black women have been instrumental in shaping the genre. 

Their stories, from Cotten’s “Cotten picking” to Martell’s historic Opry performance, reveal a legacy of breaking barriers and challenging the status quo, setting the stage for ongoing advocacy and representation in country music. We delve into Black women’s deep historical roots and contributions in country music, celebrating their enduring impact and the continued efforts to amplify their voices in an industry that is finally beginning to acknowledge its diverse and rich heritage.

Deep Historical Roots and Contributions 

Black women have deep roots in country music, contributing significantly to its origins. The banjo, a staple instrument in country music, has African origins, and the first string band performers were enslaved people. Virtuoso Black women musicians like Elizabeth Cotten and Etta Baker played pivotal roles in developing major country music guitar and banjo-picking styles originating from the Piedmont region’s blues.

Elizabeth Cotten and Etta Baker: The Matiarchs of Country Music

Elizabeth Cotten, courtesy Smithsonian Folkways

Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, born in the late 19th century, emerged as a pioneering force in American blues and folk music. Her indelible mark on the folk revival of the 1960s stemmed from her “Cotten picking” style—a distinctive, self-taught guitar technique that saw her deftly play a right-handed guitar upside down. Her fingers danced on the bass strings while her thumb caressed the melody, a revolutionary method that has since been emulated by a myriad of guitarists across diverse musical landscapes.

The renowned song “Freight Train,” penned by a young Cotten, ascended to the status of a folk staple, encapsulating the essence of her rich legacy. Her ascent in music, however, only came to fruition later in her life after her chance employment with the Seeger family, pillars in the American folk scene, led to her rediscovery. The revered Folkways Records released her talent into the world with “Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar,” earning Cotten a place in the annals of music history. Despite the industry’s partiality to youth, Cotten’s relentless passion propelled her career well into her sixties and beyond, culminating in Grammy accolades and a posthumous Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2022—affirmations of her lasting impact on music.

Etta Baker stands as another monumental figure within the genre, adorning the Piedmont blues tradition with her virtuosic fingerpicking style. Her craftsmanship transcended regional boundaries and influenced a kaleidoscope of musicians within country, folk, and blues circles. For the majority of her life, Baker’s brilliance radiated within the confines of her community until her later years brought her significant recognition, sharing stages with music’s elite and solidifying her legacy in the American musical tapestry.

Confronting the Historical Silencing of Black Voices in Country Music

In the early decades of the 20th century, the music industry’s partition into “Hillbilly” and “Race” records created a divide that echoed the era’s pervasive racial segregation. This classification system not only segregated the sounds of an entire nation but also established a hierarchy that sidelined Black artists, effectively muting their presence within genres such as country music. The ramifications of this artificial binary were profound, leading to the marginalization of Black musicians and the overshadowing of their contributions—especially those of Black women, whose musical innovations were frequently dismissed or obscured in the shadow of their white counterparts.

This pattern of oversight is undeniably a direct correlation to broader systemic social issues, from the whitewashing of history to entrenched racial and gender biases. Black women’s musical genius, interwoven with the very soul of country music, faced erasure, a stark reminder of the disparities that have long existed within the music industry and beyond.

The sagas of Elizabeth Cotten and Etta Baker stand as beacons of the opulent legacy left by Black women artists—a legacy too often dimmed by the pages of a one-sided history. Their profound contributions to American music are portals to a past that requires a retelling, one that fully embraces the plethora of cultures and influences that have honed the soundtracks of American life. These matriarchs of melody exemplify why we must rewrite the annals of musical lore to cast an inclusive light on all the hands that have plucked the strings of our shared heritage.

A renaissance of historical integrity in country music necessitates the recognition of these overshadowed pioneers. Their narratives implore us to pave the way for a more balanced and truthful recounting of music history—one that celebrates every chord and chorus composed by those who have been historically silenced. Through acknowledging these truths and honoring the full spectrum of creators who shaped the fabric of American music, we can aspire to rectify the injustices of the past and tune the frequencies of country music to resonate inclusively, now and into the future.

Shattering the Sound Barriers: Linda Martell’s Historic Strides in Country Music

Linda Martell

Linda Martell’s ascent in the late 1960s and 1970s stands as a revolutionary chapter in the annals of country music. Her performance on the iconic Grand Ole Opry stage in 1969 shattered convention ceilings; Martell was not merely the first Black woman to grace this emblematic platform—she was reshaping the face of country music itself. This appearance, reverberating far beyond the concert hall in Nashville, Tennessee, marked a defiant step against the racial barriers of the era and placed her squarely in the spotlight of change within the genre.

The resonance of her single “Color Him Father,” climbing to the top 25 on the Billboard Country charts, amplified her voice in a marketplace that seldom made room for artists of color, especially Black women. The song, a soulful rendition of The Winstons’ hit, wove together the threads of genre and emotion, resonating with a wide audience and demonstrating Martell’s exceptional talent.

Yet, triumph on the charts did not safeguard Martell from the industry’s stark realities: racial discrimination and insufficient promotional backing. These hindrances, emblematic of the systemic difficulties confronting Black artists, thwarted the momentum her chart success promised. Martell’s experiences illuminate the consistent, broader challenges within an industry predominantly navigated by white men.

Despite the brevity of her career and the obstacles she endured, Linda Martell’s legacy in country music remains indelible. Her fortitude and artistic prowess carved out paths for subsequent Black artists, chipping away at the monolith of uniformity in the industry. Her profound impact is an enduring testament to the power of resilience and the critical need for inclusivity across the musical spectrum.

The tale of Linda Martell is not merely one of individual achievement but a beacon that spotlights the slow, persistent march toward inclusivity within country music. Her journey reminds us of the essentiality of diversity and representation, inspiring an ongoing crescendo for equity that continues to shape the future of the genre she so boldly navigated. Martell’s spirit and the barriers she broke compel us to listen, remember, and strive for a chorus featuring every voice in the country music saga.

 There is an upcoming documentary about the life of Linda Martell titled “Bad Case of the Country Blues.” The document chronicles the indomitable spirit of Linda Martell. Directed by her granddaughter, Marquia Thompson, this film is a labor of love and a testament to Martell’s pioneering journey as a Black woman in the country music scene. As the documentary nears completion, it is a crucial piece in the mosaic of country music history, seeking to illuminate Martell’s legacy and the broader narrative of Black women’s indelible contributions to the genre. This film offers an intimate portrayal of Martell’s trials and triumphs. It serves as a rallying cry for the support and recognition of the many Black women who have shaped the heart and soul of country music.

Continued Advocacy and Representation 

The efforts to support and amplify the voices of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous artists in country music are crucial in addressing the historical and ongoing underrepresentation in the genre. Rissi Palmer’s “Color Me Country” radio show, named after Linda Martell’s album, is one such platform that highlights these artists and their music. The Color Me Country Artist Grant Fund, established by Palmer, provides financial support to underrepresented artists of color, helping them overcome some financial barriers to entry in the industry. These initiatives not only celebrate the contributions of Black women and other artists of color but also work to create a more equitable and inclusive country music industry.

Rissi Palmer

These expanded points illustrate the complex tapestry of Black women’s experiences in country music, from the pioneering work of early musicians to the ongoing efforts to ensure their contributions are recognized and celebrated. The narrative of country music is enriched by acknowledging these artists and actively working to dismantle the barriers they have faced.

Beyoncé’s foray into country music with tracks like “Daddy Lessons” and the chart-topping “Texas Hold’Em” has showcased her versatility as an artist and spotlighted the genre’s rich, diverse roots and the importance of inclusivity within it. As we celebrate Beyoncé’s contributions and the doors she has opened, it’s crucial to recognize and support other artists who are also making significant impacts in country music and beyond. 


Elevating the Symphony: Eleven Black Women Reshaping the Country Music Scene

Country music’s horizon gleams with the brilliance of eleven Black women whose artistry parallels the powerhouse that is Beyoncé—each a maverick commanding our appreciation and applause. With their genre-bending capabilities and trailblazing endeavors, these remarkable songstresses are embroidering new patterns into the fabric of country music. As narrators of their own stories, they harmonize the struggle for diversity and unity, inviting us to experience the profound layers of country music through fresh and vibrant lenses. Let us acknowledge their contribution and bestow upon them the adulation akin to Beyoncé’s, for they are pivotal in the unfolding narrative of country music’s tapestry.

Valerie June: Hailing from the heart of Memphis, Tennessee, Valerie June fuses the essences of folk, blues, gospel, soul, country, Appalachian, and bluegrass into a distinctive blend that has drawn acclaim across the music sphere. This Grammy-nominated artisan weaves a rich tapestry of “organic moonshine roots music,” captivating listeners from The Tonight Show to Austin City Limits with her multifaceted creativity.

Yola: British-born Yola transcends boundaries, encapsulating the spirit of modern roots music. Her four-time Grammy-nominated sound is a testament to the transformative power of music, entwining country’s twang with soul’s depth and Americana’s broad strokes.

Mickey Guyton: Mickey Guyton has carved her place in history as the first Black woman nominated for a Grammy in the Best Country Solo Performance category. Her voice is not only a floodlight on the stage but also a beacon for inclusivity and transformation within the country music community.

Brittney Spencer: Recognized as part of CMT’s “Next Women in Country Class of 2021,” Brittney Spencer’s storytelling prowess and enchanting melodies are brushing new colors onto the canvas of country music, earning her a hallowed spot among its vibrant narrative threads.

Rissi Palmer: Echoing the triumphs of her predecessors, Rissi Palmer stands as the first Black woman in two decades to notch a position on the country charts. Beyond her vocal artistry is her commitment to lifting the voices of BIPOC artists—her “Color Me Country” radio show is a testament to that mission.

Chapel Hart: With a zest for life and tales that resonate, Chapel Hart conjures music that speaks to the soul. The trio’s enigmatic presence and “You Can Have Him Jolene” anthem resonate within the halls of country music, marked by their inclusion in CMT’s “Next Women in Country Class of 2021.”

Miko Marks: A stalwart voice within the genre, Miko Marks’s two-decade tenure and lauded return with “Our Country” herald her as a pivotal figure whose artistry and advocacy are vital threads in the country music story, raising awareness for Black women artists within the sphere.

Reyna Roberts: With vocals that soar and an unbridled stage presence, Reyna Roberts is paving her path in the constellation of country luminaries. Her name glimmers across playlists and platforms, signaling the ascent of a new star in the genre’s sky.

Tiera Kennedy: A beacon among the Next Women of Country class of 2020, Tiera harnesses the power of her songwriting and melodious gift to etch her presence in the annals of country music, signifying a bright future for the genre’s evolution.

Ashlie Amber: Ashlie Amber commands attention with her distinctive timbre and has received nods from industry giants such as CMA and CMT. Poised to launch her inaugural album with a leading label, Amber is on the cusp of etching her mark on a grander scale.

Julie Williams: A fresh face in the roster, Julie Williams, with her melding of country, pop, and soul, takes her honored place within the CMT Next Women of Country Class of 2023. Her versatility sings of the expansive scope of country music’s ever-evolving landscape.

Each of these artists carries the flame that ignites country music’s evolution, illuminating the paths for generations to come. Let us lift their melodies to the same crescendo of fervor and respect we reserve for icons like Beyoncé, for their symphony enriches the legacy and diversity of country music’s melody.

Harmonizing the Future: Embracing Black Women’s Contributions in Country Music

In the coda of our journey through the profound legacy of Black women in country music, it becomes evident that our support must extend beyond mere applause for their musical compositions. It’s about cultivating an environment where diversity thrives, equity is the norm, and inclusion harmonizes with every guitar strum. The narratives of Elizabeth Cotten, Etta Baker, and Linda Martell, as well as the nuanced melodies of Valerie June, Mickey Guyton, and their contemporaries, are vital verses in the ongoing ballad of country music. This ballad is enriched by our own actions and commitment.

By elevating their tales, we not only celebrate their artistry; we actively participate in scripting a more inclusive and dynamic future for country music. We must tune into their stories, catalyze initiatives that foster inclusion, debunk stereotypes, and support these women in and beyond the realm of music. We endeavor to create a symphony where every artist’s voice finds its place in the choir, ensuring that the resounding impact of these pioneering spirits enkindles the imaginations of future songsmiths.

Let us carry the torch passed on by these trailblazers, amplifying the reach of their songs, being present in the audiences they captivate, and advocating their rightful space in the industry. Collectively, we are the custodians of a heritage that should echo inclusively across the hills of the country music heartland, ensuring that the chorus of this beloved genre is rich with every voice.

Let us not depart from this concert of action. Stand with us, contribute to this cause, and bestow upon these 11 Black women country artists the admiration and prominence equal to that of figures like Beyoncé. In doing so, we not only celebrate their individual talents but invigorate the very soul of country music—a soul that has always been and will continue to be, vibrantly diverse.

Written with assistance from ChatGPT


Written by: Tarik Moody

Rate it

Who we are

HYFIN is a media movement from Radio Milwaukee.

Milwaukee’s only Urban Alternative radio station features the full spectrum of Black music beyond R&B and Hip-Hop plus Milwaukee music. HYFIN connects the culture with the latest Black culture news, podcasts and more. Listen to best hip hop & R&B, dance, Afrobeats and more!


Our radio is always online!
Listen now completely free!