This article will introduce you to some of the most famous Black country singers on the scene today.
Country music has seen huge growth in recent times, with the genre’s album sales making up approximately 8.6% of overall music sales in 2021. That’s an impressive number when compared to pop music which is responsible for 10.7%. It is one of the most popular music niches in the United States, with genre regularly sells more than ten million albums every year.
Originating from Southern American States in the early 1920s, country music has many tropes including simple melodies, and emotional lyrics along with themes of love and loss. The genre has always been deep-rooted in narrative and the use of old-style instruments like the guitar, banjo and fiddle, also taking inspiration from other styles including rock and pop.
Historically, country music has been dominated by white artists. In some ways, this is surprising, as country music has close ties to blues. However, recent years have seen a growing number of People of Colour enter the scene. Country music today is perhaps more diverse than ever.
Here are twenty of the most influential and best Black country singers you need to know about.
20. DeFord Bailey
American country music and blues star DeFord Bailey became popular during the 1920s. He played multiple instruments throughout his career but is best known for the harmonica and is referred to as a “harmonica wizard.”
Bailey belongs to the first generation of live radio performers. He toured with numerous well-known country artists during the 1930s. Yet following the royalties disagreement between Broadcast Music Inc (BMI) and American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Bailey was fired and turned his back on life as an entertainer.
However, he returned to the public eye in the 1970s and by 2005 was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Encyclopedia of Country Music celebrates Bailey as “the most significant black country star before World War II.”
19. The War And Treaty
The War and Treaty formed in 2014 and in the same year released their single ‘Hi Ho’ which was described by Paste magazine’s Chris Estey as their “break out hit.” Later in 2017, the duo released the EP Down to the River, cited as a mix of blues, gospel, soul and country, revered as “a splendidly made immediate classic about conflict and redemption.”
The War and Treaty’s second studio album Hearts Town peaked at number seventy on the Billboard country chart. They would eventually sign a major record deal with label Universal Music Group in 2022. A notable moment came towards the end of that year when they performed a cover of ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)’ with Brothers Osborne at the 56th Annual Country Music Association Awards.
Daniel Gerard Breland, better known as Breland, is an American singer and songwriter, and one of the most successful Black country singers on the scene today. He is also a record producer and key player in the country rap genre.
It was his 2019 debut single ‘My Truck’ that, with the influence of social media, gained huge popularity and peaked at number twenty six on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Its remix featuring Sam Hunt helped elevate the track to certified platinum with over one million copies sold.
The following year, Breland joined Apple Music Country as a host for his own radio show called Land of the Bre. His debut album Cross Country was released two years later and reached number fifteen on the Billboard country chart.
Yola first rose to prominence as a member of English band Phantom Limb. Originally using the name Yolanda Quartey she was an integral part of the group from 2005 to 2012. She released her first solo EP Orphan Offering in 2016, and went on to become one of today’s most successful female Black country singers.
Three years later her debut studio album Walk Through Fire became a critical success with four Grammy Award nominations including Best New Artist. In 2021, Yola’s follow-up LP Stand for Myself reached number six on Billboard Country folk charts, praised for its genre-fluid sound that incorporated soul, disco, R&B and even rock.
16. The Carolina Chocolate Drops
Country skiffle group The Carolina Chocolate Drops were an old-time string band from North Carolina. Their 2010 album Genuine Negro Jig won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album and was listed ninth in fRoots Magazine’s top ten albums of 2010.
In 2013, they were nominated for a Blues Music Award for Best Acoustic Artist. The group’s fourth studio album Leaving Eden reached number 123 on the Billboard 200 but is a cult hit amongst hardcore fans.
A year later they stopped regularly performing together with its various members going on to pursue solo projects. Their former vocalist, country singing star Rhiannon Giddens, has since released a number of recordings.
15. Aaron Neville
Aaron Neville is best known as an American R&B, country and soul singer. One of his most successful singles was 1966’s ‘Tell It Like It Is’ which reached top spot on the Soul chart for five weeks, was number one on Billboard’s R&B chart and also peaked at number two on their Hot 100 – just behind ‘I’m a Believer’ by the Monkees.
The track went on to sell over one million copies and was eventually awarded a gold disc. Neville achieved four platinum albums and also four Top Ten hits in the United States including three that climbed to number one on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. At age eighty, Neville announced his retirement from touring but was quoted as still being open to recording albums or performing for special events.
14. Jimmie Allen
American country music singer and songwriter Jimmie Allen gained notoriety with the release of two hit singles ‘Best Shot’ and ‘Make Me Want To’ ahead of his 2018 album Mercury Lane. The LP was a critical success reaching number eleven on the Billboard Country chart. ‘Best Shot’ became the second most-added song to country music radio playlists. The song also featured on the Hot Country Songs and Billboard Hot 100 charts.
It was a Number one hit on the Billboard Country Airplay chart making Allen the first Black artist to to debut with a single at the top of that chart. In 2021, he claimed the Country Music Association Award for New Artist of the Year and became only the second black artist to do so since Darius Rucker in 2009.
13. Rhiannon Giddens
Rhiannon Giddens is widely known as a founding member of the country, blues and old-time music band The Carolina Chocolate Drops. She was their lead singer who was able to play the fiddle and banjo too. Giddens has released two solo albums to date including Tomorrow Is My Turn in 2015. The album is particularly notable for including songs originally made famous by the likes of Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and Nina Simone.
The Los Angeles Times described Giddens’ album as “a collection that should solidify her status as one of the bright new lights in pop music.” She has also achieved beyond music, earning an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of North Carolina for her work within the music educational community.
12. Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X’s brand of country rap is a refreshing take on the genre. The American rapper and singer-songwriter rose to prominence with the release of his country rap single ‘Old Town Road.’ The track gained viral popularity, quickly ascending the international charts, becoming diamond certified whilst accumulating ten million streaming and sales in the process. It spent nineteen weeks at the summit of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.
In 2021, his debut album Montero was a notable success and nominated for an Album of the Year Grammy Award. Lil Nas X also became the first openly LGBT Black artist to win a Country Music Association award. In 2019, Time Magazine would go on to name him as one of the twenty-five most influential people on the Internet and was even listed on the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2020.
11. Trini Triggs
One of American country’s best artists Trini Triggs’ most well-known releases was 1998’s self-titled album. Produced by Chuck Howard and Anthony Smith, the LP spawned three singles to feature on the Billboard Hot Country Singles and Hot Country Songs charts later that calendar year.
Other career highlights include the 1998 single ‘Straight Tequila’ which peaked at 47 on the Billboard Country chart, 2002 album Inside Traxx including single ‘You Never Can Tell’ and 2013’s Best of Trini Triggs.
10. Petrella Ann Bonner
Self-proclaimed “First Lady of Country Soul” Petrella Ann Bonner has released an impressive eight studio albums throughout her career. She has registered numerous tracks amongst the Top 100 Country Singles charts including 2008 single ‘I Want To Know You Forever’ which charted on the Billboard Hot Single chart at number fifteen.
Bonner was also named 1994’s Songwriter of the Year by the Tennessee Songwriters Association..
9. Carl Ray
Carl Ray has already made a real impact on the country music scene with his stunning voice and touching lyrics. Back in 2013, he released his debut album I Stand Alone to critical acclaim and the LP ultimately helped confirm Ray as a promising star.
His style often fuses traditional country music with a modern twist to forge a fresh sound that has set him apart from many other artists in the genre. Interestingly, Ray has worked with several charities including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. His commitment to helping communities is exemplary and has made him an adored artist within the country music landscape.
8. Tina Turner
Before launching a successful career as a solo performer, The “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll” began her musical life as the lead singer of The Ike & Tina Turner Revue with roots in country music, blues and soul. First performing as Little Ann in 1958 before then debuting as Tina Turner with her husband two years later, she soon transformed into “one of the most formidable live acts in history.”
Turner has sold over 100 million records globally, winning twelve Grammy Awards including three Grammy Hall of Fame awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She became the first black artist and first woman to feature on the cover of Rolling Stone, who also ranked her among the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Turner was gifted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
7. Lesley Riddle
As part of The Carter Family Country band, Lesley Riddle helped mould country music, recording a host of hit songs including ‘Hello Stranger,’ ‘Let the Church Roll On,’ and ‘Lonesome For You.’
Riddle’s guitar playing has made a huge impression on numerous other artists who have used elements in their own music stylings. A stage production about Riddle’s life and times was recently commissioned. Currently Playwright Jeff Douglas Messer is working on a novel and screenplay based around the stage script.
6. Ray Charles
Highly regarded as one of the most iconic singers in music history, Ray Charles is credited with pioneering soul music during the 1950’s by combining blues, jazz, country and gospel styles into his records. In particular, his 1962 album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music highlighted his prestige in country music, becoming his first album to top the Billboard 200 charts.
Charles reached the Top 40 on various Billboard charts with multiple singles in the Hot 100 singles chart and US R&B singles chart. Notably, he was among the inaugural inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Rolling Stone Magazine placed Charles at number ten on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In 2022, he was also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame along with a place in the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame.
5. Cowboy Troy
Cowboy Troy is an American rapper and singer who is best known for his work in the country rap genre. To date, he has recorded seven studio albums that have all charted on the Billboard country singles charts.
In 2005, Troy’s first solo album with a major label was released called Loco Motive. The LP debuted at number two on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. The opening single ‘I Play Chicken With The Train’ reached number 48 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and was the number one Country genre download on the iTunes Music Store during the spring of that year.
4. Cleveland Francis
American country music singer-songwriter Cleveland Francis switched his focus to country music in the late 1980s. Between 1992 and 1994, he released a total of three studio albums along with four singles that featured on the Billboard Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart.
He has recorded a total of nine albums, his debut country album Last Call for Love including one of his more famous singles called ‘Love Light.’ More recently in 2022, Francis released Beyond the Willow Tree which was a remastered reissue of his 1970 self-released folk album Follow Me. It included several other folk and country songs he had previously recorded as demos into the late 1960s.
3. Mickey Guyton
Texas born Candace Mycale “Mickey” Guyton is famed for her fusion of country and R&B music styles. In 2015, she released her debut single ‘Better Than You Left Me’ which reached number thirty-four on the US Country Airplay chart and even earned her a nomination from the Academy of Country Music Awards.
In 2020, Guyton released the notable single ‘Black Like Me’ that was praised for its honest depictions of experiences as a Black woman within country music. Its importance was further elevated after being released during the storm of George Floyd protests and increased publicity surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. She received her first ever nomination at the Grammy Awards and became the first Black woman to ever be nominated in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Mickey Guyton is undeniably amongst the most influential and famous Black country singers on the scene today.
2. Darius Rucker
Darius Rucker rose to prominence as the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of rock band Hootie & the Blowfish where he co-wrote most of the songs. With the band he released five studio albums and even achieved six top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100.
He would eventually sign to Capitol as a country music singer and quickly released the album Learn to Live that year. Its lead single ‘Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It’ earned him the accolade of first black artist to reach number one on the Hot Country Songs charts since Charley Pride in the early 1980s. In 2009, he also became the first black American to win the New Artist Award from the Country Music Association and only the second black person to win any award from the association!
1. Charley Pride
Charley Pride found great musical success in the early to mid-1970s as he became the best-selling performer for label RCA Records since Elvis Presley. He has registered an incredibly impressive fifty-two top ten hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and thirty of which made it to number one.
In 1971, he won the Entertainer of the Year award at the Country Music Association Awards and a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance Male the following year. Pride is one of three African-American members of the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly American country music stage concert based in Nashville, alongside legends DeFord Bailey and Darius Rucker. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
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