February marks Black History Month, and CMT is celebrating the resilient musicians who have significantly shifted the country genre in an inclusive, positive direction.
CMT has carefully crafted a list of powerful women who knocked down walls to pursue a career in country music and have changed the space for generations to come.
Mickey Guyton is an unstoppable force demanding racial and gender equality within the country music genre. For nearly a decade, Guyton struggled to find her footing in an overwhelmingly white male-dominated industry. With all the odds against the resilient vocalist, she faced a career-altering decision – to quit or fight for representation.
Ultimately, Guyton was able to overcome the obstacles that confronted her. The Texas native’s empowering debut album, “Remember Her Name,” catapulted her into the spotlight and sparked a necessary conversation around racism in the genre. The 16-song record included the eye-opening ballad “Black Like Me,” which was released after the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The song, which exemplifies her struggle as a Black woman in America, earned her a Grammy nomination. Guyton became the first black solo female ever to be nominated in a country category. In 2020, she received a standing ovation from radio executives at the Ryman Auditorium after a moving performance of “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” – a track that touches upon social injustice from the perspective of a parent speaking to their child. After developing a reputation as an unapologetic songwriter, Guyton became the first black woman to host the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2021. She also delivered the National Anthem at the 2022 Super Bowl.
“I realize that change starts with us. It starts with me. It starts with you. It starts with this entire industry. Whether you are gay, straight, white, black, Latino…whatever,” Guyton exclusively told CMT. “It starts with all of us. In order for us to really see change, we’re going to have to stick our neck out on the line to make sure that happens.”
Rissi Palmer has helped shift the music landscape in a positive direction and has given underrepresented communities a voice. As one of the most successful African American musicians of her time in the country genre, Palmer’s contributions have often been overlooked. In 2007, Palmer became the first black woman to chart a country song since Dona Mason in 1987. Her hit track “Country Girl” from her self-titled debut album made history on the Billboard Country chart. At the time, there was a lack of representation in the genre. Palmer had to go through many trials and tribulations to pursue a career in country music. Today, Palmer is a leading name in the industry, as a CMT Hot 20 countdown correspondent and a Recording Academy Nashville chapter representative.
Palmer scored two nominations in the Best Children’s Music Album category at the 2022 Grammy Awards for her song “Little Black Girl, Little Black Boy” and the duet “I Just Can’t Sit Down” with Latin duo 123 Andrés. Most recently, Palmer became the host of Apple Music’s “Color Me Country,” an outlet that gives black, Latino and indigenous artists an avenue to share their stories. It also explores the rich origin of country music, which was molded by African American musicians. This cross-country artist that channels her R&B soul, has performed at The White House, the Grand Ole Opry, and New York’s Lincoln Center.
The world learned the name Miko Marks in 2007 when she released her country-pop record, “It Feels Good.” Due to the lack of support she received from the country community, the songstress took a 13-year hiatus. After more than a decade – Marks dropped “Our Country” in 2021. Sonically, Marks introduced a refreshing sound that beautifully blends her knack for country, Southern rock, gospel, and R&B. Lyrically, she covers police brutality, the racial injustice problem in America, and violence – proving that she’s far from a surface-level writer.
The thought-provoking project served as her comeback album and compelled society to open its eyes to the current climate. Within the same year, Marks and her long-time collaborators known as The Resurrectors [Justin Phipps and Steve Wyreman] shared their EP “Race Records” – a collection highlighting the segregation between artists and audiences in the 1940s. Marks returned to her roots in 2022 with “Feel Like Going Home,” an LP that reflects on her past, analyzes her present and predicts her future. The powerhouse was inducted into CMT’s Next Women of Country class of 2022, made her Grand Ole Opry debut, and has participated in CMT’s Equal Access Development program. Marks will hit the road in the spring with Rissi Palmer for an eight-night-only tour.
CMT Next Women of Country member Brittney Spencer moved to Nashville in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2020 that she made a significant mark with her EP, “Compassion.” The four-song collection embodies Spencer at her very core – a fearless civil rights advocate. “Compassion” and “Thoughts and Prayers” are call-to-action protest songs that encourage listeners to reevaluate their privilege and empathize with others. Meanwhile, Spencer stomps her foot down in “Damn Right, You’re Wrong,” confirming that she’s done “people pleasing” and trying to fit into an unrealistic box that emulates the white gaze.
Spencer’s authenticity, vulnerability, and robust vocals have not gone unnoticed by esteemed singer-songwriters on Music Row. The promising artist has found herself in co-writing rooms with Jimmie Allen, Hailey Whitters, Blanco Brown, Brandy Clark, and among others. Before the Baltimore native was a successful solo artist, she was a background singer for Carrie Underwood.
Spencer received well-deserved recognition during the 2020 CMA Awards when Maren Morris acknowledged her talents during an acceptance speech for Female Vocalist of The Year. Following an acoustic cover of The Highwomen’s “Crowded Table,” Spencer performed alongside the Americana quartet on several occasions. Spencer opened for Morris at Bridgestone Arena, sang with Brothers Osborne at the 2022 Academy of Country Music Awards, and toured with Jason Isbell. However, her honest single “Sober and Skinny” produced by Aaron Eshuis, brought her career to new heights. The soul-stirring track serves as the first release of her forthcoming album.
Reyna Roberts is a fierce fireball blazing her own path. Robert was born in Alaska and was raised in a military family. Due to her parent’s profession, they relocated to Alabama – where she discovered her deep passion for country music. During the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Roberts moved to Nashville to pursue music professionally. Upon arrival, Roberts turned heads with a cover of Carrie Underwood’s “Drinking Alone.” Roberts’ country-pop sound immediately caught the attention of Underwood and Mickey Guyton.
“Country music also looks like this @TheReynaRoberts,” Guyton wrote alongside the video.
Shortly after the viral moment, Roberts released her debut single, “Stompin’ Grounds.” The electric guitar-soaked track serves as a rowdy ode to her southern upbringing and displays her undeniable confidence as a vocalist. “Stompin’ Grounds” was also featured on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Roberts previously told Rolling Stone that the country community welcomed her with open arms.
“I was worried about the stigma of being a black woman in country, but after thinking about it, and having the encouragement of my parents, and others, I realized that I need to go after what I love: country music,” declared Roberts. “Yes, I’ve always felt like I have a home here. However, I know that’s not the case with many other people of color in country music.”
Roberts joined CMT’s Next Women of Country in 2021, inked a publishing deal with Eclipse Music Group, opened for Reba McEntire, performed at “CMT Giants” honoring Charley Pride, and released a handful of singles such as – “Raised Right,” “Countdown To Victory,” and “Pretty Little Devils.”
Tennessee native Amythyst Kiah is a timeless musician with a unique artistic appeal. Kiah released her debut album “Dig” in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2021 that she created her signature country-blues sound with producer Tony Berg. The fusion is pushed to the forefront in her latest collection “Wary + Strange,” which includes “Black Myself.” The anthem embodies Kiah’s resilience and pride as a black woman in America. The vocalist initially co-wrote the track with the folk quartet, Our Native Daughters. “Black Myself” received a GRAMMY nomination for Best American Roots Song.
The album also touches upon self-discovery, acceptance, and mental health. Kiah is also a queer trailblazer, knocking down barriers for other members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“This album serves as a way to cope with the crippling anxiety I’ve felt about my identity, who I was, and where I fit in. For me, music has always served as a way to try to deal with that,” the singer told Billboard. “I’m what I needed to see when I was younger. To be the artist that proves that there are funny-talking, sci-fi-loving, queer Black people who look like me and who thrive outside of mainstream Black culture and mainstream expectations of Black people is important.”
A musical family raised Sacha in Ontario, Canada. The songstress was introduced to legends like Patsy Cline, Janis Joplin, and Bob Marley early on – influencing her country-pop sound. Sacha was propelled into the spotlight in 2012, when her anti-bullying song “Stix n Stones” went viral. Despite her adolescent vocals, Sacha proved that she was wise beyond her years. At the time, the aspiring vocalist experienced discrimination first-hand as a minority in her small town. While sharing the up-lifting track on school tours, she also opened up about her personal struggles. Sacha went on to win “Canada’s Next Country Music Star” and was one of 10 to be inducted into CMT’s Next Women of Country 2021 class.
After making a splash in Nashville, the promising artist released two EPs – “The Best Thing” and “We Did.” Sacha recently dropped “Confident,” an empowering duet with Tyler Shaw. The singer-songwriter performed at the NHL All-Star Game and embarked on the All Song No Static Tour presented by CMT with Maddie & Tae.
Camille Parker released her debut single, “The Flame” in 2021 – displaying her chilling country-soul sound. Upon release, Parker’s original track quickly secured a spot in the top 10 of Apple Music’s Country chart and raked in 1.5 million on-demand streams. Following her introduction, Parker became an inaugural member of Rissi Palmer’s “Color Me Country” class of 2021 and was named within CMT’s 2022 Next Women of Country Class.
“It’s amazing. I’ve been on this journey for a while – for a few years,” Parker previously told CMT’s Cody Alan. “When the pandemic hit, I started off that entire time just feeling a little bit discouraged, and I really had to look inside myself and say, ‘What can I do from where I was?'”
2022 was a bucket-list year for the promising artist, as she performed at the Grand Ole Opry, played her first festival in the UK, and sang at the legendary Bluebird Café in Nashville. The must-watch musician is currently working on her debut EP with Grammy Award-winning producers Chris McClenney and David Phelps.
Madeline Edwards’ primary motive is to drive inclusivity and reshape the genre. The Texas native made a historic debut, when she performed “Love My Hair” alongside Mickey Guyton and Brittney Spencer at the 2021 CMA Awards. The eye-opening number highlighted Black beauty and forecasted Edwards’ bright future as a country trailblazer. The fast-rising star inked a record deal with Warner Music Nashville and toured with country sensation, Chris Stapleton.
The CMT’s Next Women of Country member and Equal Play Award recipient recently released her debut full-length album, “Crashlanded.” The critically acclaimed collection embodies Edwards’ growth as a vocalist, genre-transcending sound, and also captures her deep-rooted purpose as an artist.
“It pushes inclusivity. That’s my whole brand in a nutshell,” Edwards told CMT. “It’s going to be a theme, not only with every song on this album, but with visuals and videos. I want it to reflect what my life looks like. I have a lot of different people in my life that look different than me and believe different things than me.”
Nashville-based artist Tiera Kennedy is relishing success after becoming the flagship artist for Nicolle Galyon’s record label and publishing company, Songs & Daughters. Long before Kennedy secured a record deal, she achieved independent stardom with her single “Found It In You.” The relatable love song that shines a light on her R&B-country twang was inspired by her creative director turned husband, Kamren Kennedy. The breakout star teamed up with award-winning producer Dan Huff to transform “Found It In You” into a radio-ready hit.
Her infectious vocals garnered a devoted fan base, but her candid personality scored Kennedy her own podcast on Apple Music Country, “The Tiera Show.” The Alabama native gives country music fans her honest perspective on the genre, while also educating them about other areas of entertainment. Kennedy is a CMT Next Women of Country member, and a part of CMT’s 2020 Listen Up class. In 2021, Kennedy made her Opry debut and released her self-titled EP. Most recently, Kennedy honored country legend Shania Twain at the 15th Annual ACM honors with a touching rendition of “From This Moment On.”