PHOENIX — Country music’s biggest night kicks off with the 55th annual CMA awards marking an important milestone for diversity. For the very first time, two black country stars are nominated for new artist of the year.
This is an important milestone for artists of color, especially for Black women who have been fighting for years to be accepted as mainstream country artists.
“I don’t want anyone to become complaisant. I don’t want it to be because Jimmie Allen and Mickey Guyton are nominated for new artist awards to think that we made it, that we’re at nirvana and that’s it,” expressed country singer Rissi Palmer.
Palmer has paved the way in the country music industry. In 2007 Palmer made it to the top country charts, it was the first time since 1987 that a Black woman was making news headlines for singing country music.
Today music awards are trying to be more inclusive, but Arizona State University professor, Mako Fitts Ward, says there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.
“The country music industry has historically been designed to shut Black women out in terms of access to record labels and their appearance in country radio,” stated Fitts Ward.
But country music artists are fighting back, Palmer’s radio show, Color Me Country is a great example of the ongoing discussion for more representation.
“It focuses a spotlight on marginalized voices, voices of color and this month is indigenous people’s month. So, all our programming this month is focused on indigenous artists,” said Palmer.
She says everyone should have a place in country music.
“Music at its best, it's three chords and the truth and everyone's truth deserves to be represented. That includes women of color, differently-abled people, LGBTQ plus, and so on and so forth,” expressed Palmer.
For Palmer and other country artists, stories from all walks of life matter.
“We get so many messages from people that say, ‘it matters to look at country music and be able to see myself,’” said Danica Hart of the band Chapel Hart.
Chapel Hart is an up-and-coming country group to watch for. They’re now part of the CMT Next Women of Country Class of 2021 and they’re determined to break down barriers.
“There should be black women at number one on billboards on country charts, all over in country music, it makes us know that we got to keep working until we’re there,” expressed Hart.