Most Popular Black Country Singers
While Black musicians are largely responsible for inventing country music, there are few African American artists who still perform it.
In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to take the time to recognize Black country singers of the past, present and future who have left their indelible mark on the genre and who continue to expand its horizons.
13. Rissi Palmer
Years active: 2007–present
Best known for: "Country Girl"
Bottom Line: Rissi Palmer
Palmer, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, native who grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, had a publishing and label deal by the time she was 19.
She has performed at the White House, Lincoln Center and the Grand Ole Opry and has shared stages with Taylor Swift and the Eagles, among others.
In August 2020, she launched a radio on Apply Music, "Color Me Country," and is a special correspondent for CMT's Hot 20 Countdown.
In Their Own Words: Rissi Palmer
"I totally look forward to the day when it's, 'So Rissi, tell me about the album' as opposed to 'You're black. Tell me how that feels," Palmer said in a Today interview in 2007.
12. Linda Martell
Years active: 1962–2011
Best known for: "Color Him Father," "Before The Next Teardrop Falls"
Bottom Line: Linda Martell
Linda Martell's career is made up of a lot of firsts. Among them, she was the first commercially successful Black female country artist and the first Black woman to play the Grand Ole Opry.
Martell, a South Carolina native, started singing R&B songs in a family band, Linda Martell and the Anglos, in the early 1960s. She discovered country music at a local Air Force base and stepped out on her own as a singer a few years later. She was signed to Plantation Records in 1969, and her first single, "Color Him Father," made it on to the Billboard charts.
She saw moderate success over the following few years — she released three albums, made appearances on variety shows like "Hee Haw" and played the Grand Ole Opry several times. However, her fame was short-lived. After conflicts with her business manager, her recording contract ended, and she left Nashville around 1974.
She continued performing in small clubs around the country and supported herself with day jobs before moving back to South Carolina to be near her family. She was honored with CMT's Equal Play Award in 2021, and there is a documentary about her life in the works.
In Their Own Words: Linda Martell
"Country music tells a story. When you choose a song and you can feel it, that’s what made me feel great about what I was singing. I did a lot of country songs, and I loved every one of them. Because they just tell a story," she told Rolling Stone.
11. Stoney Edwards
Years active: 1970–1992
Best known for: "She's My Rock,"Hank and Lefty Raised My Country Soul"
Bottom Line: Stoney Edwards
Born in Seminole County, Oklahoma, Stoney Edwards was destined to play music, but he suffered a job-related accident that would sideline his creative aspirations.
As his condition improved, he kept making music and finally broke through in 1970, around the time Charley Pride became a household name. He was signed to Capitol Records, who was looking for other Black country singers like Pride and released five albums through the label.
He never reached the level of success that Pride did, but he had a strong cult following throughout the 1970s. "She's My Rock" was his biggest hit and also a top single for both Brenda Lee and George Jones. In 1976, he released the "Blackbird (Hold Your Head High)," but radio stations largely ignored it, due to its language depicting racism.
It was the last single Edwards would make for Capitol. He died from ill health in 1997.
In Their Own Words: Stoney Edwards
Hillbilly Music quotes Edwards as saying, "Country music will always be country music, whether we continue playing it or not; it will never die. History is country music ... I play guitar and piano and banjo. I used to play steel guitar. I tune the fiddle different. I just tightened the strings up till they got where it sounded good when I'd draw the bow across it. But I did get so I could do it that way every time.
"Then I went to California, and some smart guy in some music school tuned my fiddle. He blew my fiddle career, 'cause I ain't been able to play it since."
10. Kane Brown
Years active: 2014–present
Best known for: "What Ifs," "Used to Love You Sober"
Bottom Line: Kane Brown
Kane Brown is an up-and-coming country star and first came to fame through social media. He released his first EP, "Closer," in 2015 and was signed to RCA Nashville in early 2016.
He released his first full-length, self-titled album later that year. Its main single, "What Ifs," was simultaneously No. 1 on all five Billboard country charts. His second album, "Experiment," went No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in 2018.
Brown's success shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. He recently launched his own label, 1021 Entertainment, and became the first African American artist to win Video of the Year for “Worldwide Beautiful" at the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards.
In Their Own Words: Kane Brown
"I feel super blessed to not have had, you know, just the best life growing up as a kid because I feel like if I did — and then now I'm at where I'm at today, I wouldn't have the heart that I do to reach out to other people," he said in an interview with "Good Morning America."
9. Jimmie Allen
Years active: 2017–present
Best known for: "Best Shot," "Make Me Want To"
Bottom Line: Jimmie Allen
Another rising star in country, Jimmie Allen tried making a name for himself through "American Idol" but didn't make it to the finals. Nevertheless, he was able to get a publishing deal with Wide Open Music and later signed to Broken Bow Record label's Stoney Creek imprint in 2018.
"Best Shot," his first official single, was the second most-added song to radio playlists within a week of its release and went to No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart in November 2018. His second single, "Make Me Want To," also went to No. 1 on the same chart.
Allen won New Male Artist of the Year at the 2021 ACM Awards and won New Artist of the Year at the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards in 2021.
In Their Own Words: Jimmie Allen
"My biggest goal is continuing to motivate people. That’s my goal for every show. I want people to leave a Jimmie Allen concert becoming better people than they were when they walked in, more inspired to love themselves, to make sacrifices and take risks to achieve their goals," he said in an interview with Music Row.
8. Cleve Francis
Years active: 1990–present
Best known for: "You Do My Heart Good"
Bottom Line: Cleve Francis
Cleve Francis always dreamed of having a music career, but it seemed fated to be just a hobby. After obtaining a degree in medicine, he became a cardiologist. But music never left him — he self-released albums on his own label and cut three albums for the Liberty label.
Between 1992 and 1994, four of his singles made it to Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks charts. In 1994, Francis returned to cardiology in Northern Virginia but still plays frequent shows at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria.
In Their Own Words: Cleve Francis
Francis told the Fairfax Times,"That’s still one of the problems with country music, it’s basically still segregated, and there is only one [African American] man who is in the history of country music, Charlie Pride and now a little bit, Darius Rucker; I am not sure he is still in the industry anymore.
"It’s unfortunate because the music did come from both Black and white cultures. There is no reason for it to be separated like that … I am quite an established singer; I got put on Capitol Records for three years, but I could not get the radio to play [my songs]."
7. Cowboy Troy
Years active: 1999–present
Best known for: "I Play Chicken With the Train"
Bottom Line: Cowboy Troy
Cowboy Troy calls his mix of country and rap "hick-hop." His 2005 debut, "Loco Motive," exploded onto the charts, which kept him working steadily well into the 2010s.
Troy has released seven studio albums and one EP. Two of his singles have charted on the Billboard country singles charts.
He co-hosted the fifth season of "Nashville Star" for the USA Network, and his 2017 single, "Pork Chop," was christened the theme for "Porktober," the National Pork Board's promotion for that year.
In Their Own Words: Cowboy Troy
"They [racists] want me to stop, but I'm making music that I wanted to make. I'm pursuing the dream that I've had since I was a 13-year-old kid," he told Fox News.
6. Trini Triggs
Years active: 1998–present
Best known for: "Straight Tequila," "Horse to Mexico"
Bottom Line: Trini Triggs
Trini Triggs released his self-titled album in 1997 for the MCG/Curb label. During that time, three singles from the record made it on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks.
A fourth single charted in 2004 before he left the label. Today, he is a DJ and morning-show personality on 94.9 The River in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
In Their Own Words: Trini Triggs
"I've been treated well by radio and media. I just need those songs that will open the door for me, and if I can get through the door, it could make people believe that other (Black) singers can do it. They just need the right chance and the right songs," Triggs told the Tampa Bay Times.
Years active: 1988–present
Best known for: "This Isn't Goodbye," "I Found Somebody"
Bottom Line: Petrella
Petrella Ann Bonner calls herself "the first lady of country soul" and was named “Songwriter of the Year” in 1994 by the Tennessee Songwriter's Association.
She has released seven studio albums, and many of her singles have appeared on the Top 100 Country Singles charts. She has opened for performers like the Spinners, Billy Vera and the Beaters, and the Delfonics.
"I Found Somebody," written by Glenn Frey of the Eagles, was her highest-charting single.
In Their Own Words: Petrella
"There aren’t a lot of women of color in the business. I celebrate that, but I do wonder why I don’t see more people like me. I don’t get it. I love country music, and that’s what I grew up on. I tease people all the time that my daddy’s barber shop was next door to the honky tonks, so for me, I don’t see why it’s so unusual," Petrella said in a Billboard interview.
4. Charley Crockett
Years active: 2005–present
Best known for: "Get Up Outta Texas," "Trinity River"
Bottom Line: Charley Crockett
Charley Crockett's music is a blend of blues, country and Americana. This prolific singer-songwriter has released nine albums since 2015 and worked almost non-stop until 2018, when he had open-heart surgery to correct a birth defect.
After recovery, he returned to the studio and cut "The Valley" in 2019, "Welcome to Hard Times" in 2020, and his latest album, "10 for Slim: Charley Crockett Sings James Hand," was released in February 2021.
In Their Own Words: Charley Crockett
"There is a bigger audience and I have a bigger team around me, but it is all built out of playing from a guitar case — learning how to stand behind my guitar, learning how to make money out of the case," he told Smoky Mountain News.
3. Mickey Guyton
Years active: 2011–present
Best known for: "Black Like Me"
Bottom Line: Mickey Guyton
Mickey Guyton's music combines the contemporary country and R&B genres.
After moving to Nashville, Tennessee, she landed a contract with Capitol Records Nashville in 2015. That year, the label released her debut single, "Better Than You Left Me." It landed on the U.S. Country Airplay charts, and through it, she received a nomination from the Academy of Country Music Awards.
In 2020, she released "Black Like Me," a single detailing her experiences as a Black country artist. For this, she received her first Grammy nod in the Best Country Solo Performance category. Her debut album "Remember Her Name" was released in 2021.
In Their Own Words: Mickey Guyton
"I know people believed in me, but I don't think they were sure of me. Their certainty in me wasn't available to me. And that was really, really hard. How do you sign someone and you say that you believe in them, but then you're uncertain?
"I think what was not available to me was a clear plan. My own choices were not available to me. Choosing my own songs wasn't available to me. Any time I turned in a song, it was dissected more than others' ... There's nobody else like me in this space, so anytime they tried to compare me to somebody, they couldn't quite put their finger on it," she said in an interview with NPR.
2. Darius Rucker
Years active: 1986–present
Best known for: "Wagon Wheel," "If I Told You"
Bottom Line: Darius Rucker
You may remember Darius Rucker as a member of Hootie and the Blowfish during the 1990s, but he's since become a very successful solo country artist.
As Hootie struggled to remain on the pop charts, Rucker began releasing country albums that were well received from the very beginning. The single, "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," from his sophomore solo album, "Learn to Live," went to the top of the Billboard charts in July 2008, making Rucker the first Black singer to accomplish this feat since Charley Pride in 1988.
Since then, many of his singles have charted, and his albums have continued to gain high marks from critics. He's earned countless awards and nominations from the country music community over the past decade.
In Their Own Words: Darius Rucker
"I'm a kid who grew up in an all-African American neighborhood and got into schools and aspired to just be me, and didn't worry about labels or anything. Just wanted to be a success at what I did," Rucker said, according to Brainy Quote.
1. Charley Pride
Years active: 1952–2020
Best known for: "Just Between You and Me," "All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)," "It's Gonna Take a Little Bit Longer," "She's Too Good to Be True," "A Shoulder to Cry On," "Then Who Am I," "Don't Fight the Feelings of Love," "Amazing Love," "Then Who Am I" and "Hope You're Feelin' Me (Like I'm Feelin' You)"
Bottom Line: Charley Pride
Charley Pride was one of only a handful of African American country artists to have reached massive success in the industry. His dream was to first become a professional baseball player — he played in the Negro American League, and while traveling, he often played his music on the bus.
Luckily Pride chose his true calling and had a long, auspicious career in country music, becoming its first African American superstar. He won his first Grammy for his third single, "Just Between You and Me," in 1967 and had his first No. 1 with "All I Have to Offer" two years later. Over the next three decades, he had nearly 40 No. 1 hits, and four of his albums reached platinum status. He is often on lists of the top 20 best-selling country artists of all time and has sold almost as many records as Elvis Presley.
Pride died from COVID complications on Dec. 12, 2020.
In Their Own Words: Charley Pride
"What we don't need in country music is divisiveness, public criticism of each other and some arbitrary judgment of what belongs and what doesn't," Pride was quoted saying.