How Black women reclaimed country and Americana music in 2021: NPR - The Colorado Sound

How Black women reclaimed country and Americana music in 2021: NPR

Mickey Guyton, Adia Victoria and Chapel Hart’s Devynn Hart have made the industry a more welcoming place for others who look like them. Photo Illustration by Renee Klahr/NPR; Getty Images
 
If 2020 was the kickstart of a reckoning—of country/Americana music (and, really, all of America) being forced to come to terms with its history of racism and exclusion—2021 was the year of reclamation.
Even as sustainable, systemic change remains elusive, Black women, in particular, have leveraged the power of streaming platforms and social media to bridge the chasms previously carved by labels, publishers and radio.
This year, as listeners clamored for playlists and show lineups that actually mirror the world around them, these women built brands and fanbases, all the while hoping to make the industry a more welcoming place for others who look like them. Our timeline, far from exhaustive, charts some of the ways it happened.
 
 



January

The folk lane that Yasmin Williams occupies—solo acoustic guitar—is often overlooked in accounts of sexism and racism in roots music, but it too has been dominated by white men for the last half-century. With the compositions on her January album Urban Driftwood, and the ways she performed and talked about them, Williams breezily intervened in those narrow notions of musical lineage. Her fingerstyle picking virtuosity entails being open to effervescent and thrillingly unconventional techniques.

Rissi Palmer, on the other hand, intervened closer to the mainstream. She started applying lessons learned through her dehumanizing experiences in the country music industry to advocacy in 2020, with the launch of her galvanizing Apple Radio show Color Me Country and an artist fund of that same name. The first month of 2021, she announced the inaugural class of Black women artists that she wanted to amplify (Camille Parker, Kathryn Shipley, Julie Williams, Ashlie Amber, Kären McCormick) and accelerated her efforts to disburse microgrants. Palmer’s style of reaching out to fellow artists of color with solidarity and assistance would serve as a template for so much other informal network-building throughout the year. —Jewly Hight

 




February

Amythyst Kiah‘s time in the group of banjo-playing, Black women assembled by Rhiannon Giddens, Our Native Daughters, helped thrust Kiah into a national spotlight, especially via a composition she contributed to the group, “Black Myself.” Kiah staked out her artistic individuality by rerecording the song’s historically knowledgeable and thoroughly current assertion of Black humanity as a brusquely bluesy Appalachian alternative rock tune. That was the first glimpse of how she’d bring together old-time leanings and eerie atmospherics on her album Wary + Strange to create a world big enough to house her storytelling.

A few days later, speaking on a virtual panel presented by Nashville Music EqualityFrankie Staton and Cleve Francis recounted their much earlier efforts to make room for themselves and other Black country artists in the format, work they would also soon discuss on an episode of Palmer’s show. When they described the industry advocacy they undertook through the Black Country Music Association in the ’90s, they weren’t just strolling back through history—they were sharing strategies that new generations of artist-activists were hungry to hear. —Jewly Hight

Read the full story and see the complete timeline on NPR Music.