Dolly Parton. Lorette Lynn. Shania Twain: Country music has only seen a handful of female icons dominate its scenes. But a new band is rising to the top of the industry charts – and y’all, they won’t stop until they get there.
The New Orleans-based trio shot to overnight fame after auditioning on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” in July. The group – made up of sisters Danica and Devynn Hart, and their cousin Trea Swindle – performed their original song “You Can Have Him Jolene”. A tongue-in-cheek nod to Dolly Parton’s 1974 hit “Jolene,” the performance earned them a standing ovation and golden band buzzer celebrity judges and the show’s host.
“Nobody prepares you for that viral moment that happens next,” Danica Hart told Know Your Value recently. “It’s been an incredible whirlwind that we weren’t prepared for.”
Although Chapel Hart did not win the “AGT” final, their charisma and start-up harmony took the country music scene by storm. They are scheduled to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on Saturday, only the second all-female black trio to step onto the legendary stage since 1974.
“We tried to break through in Nashville for the last two years, but it was pretty tough,” Danica Hart told the “AGT” judges earlier in the season. “Country music doesn’t always sound like us.”
Turn rejection into motivation
For years, Nashville and the industry as a whole have marginalized female artists, especially women of color. The tomato holder The 2015 scandal highlighted this gender imbalance when a radio consultant called female artists “the tomatoes in our salad” and encouraged producers to limit the number of songs performed by women on country airwaves. The incident was followed by a series of studies which revealed a 66% drop in the number of songs played by women on country radio between 2018 and 2020.
But this context only motivated the Chapel Hart trio to defy expectations. For years, the band traveled between New Orleans and Nashville, hoping to get their big break and hit a few hits. The band recounted the times they were told they weren’t cut out for country music. “People see threesomes and they’re like we can’t do threesomes because they’re women,” Swindle told Know Your Value. She added that there was an assumption that they would fight and eventually break up, simply because of their gender.
The band’s experience trying to break into the Nashville music scene inspired one of their hit songs “The Girls Are Back in Town” a gritty anthem of resilience where they denounce the genre’s gender imbalance.
“Every door closed, every kick, we kept going,” Danica Hart said. “Whether we’re bruised, beaten or heartbroken…we’ll keep coming back.” Chapel Hart said being a trio has been a source of strength and support as they continue to break down walls in a space that has long held women apart.
“We supported each other through tough times,” Danica Hart said. “We can lean on and count on each other. Swindle agreed, adding, “It’s such an advantage to be a trio. I could only imagine going through all of this, especially the last month, as an individual.
Before being discovered on “AGT”, the group was already making a name for itself. In 2021, Chapel Hart was inducted into CMT’s Next Country Women – a campaign dedicated to highlighting female talent in a male-dominated industry. Their album, “The Girls are Back in Town”, rose to the top of the iTunes charts after their “AGT” debut.
Introduce yourself, be authentic
As the women of Chapel Hart continue to innovate, disrupt, and create their own version of success, their mission is clear: to always be true to themselves. As three black women from the small town of Poplarville, Mississippi, they pride themselves on the unique stories that drive their original composition. From women’s anthems and gospel-inspired tunes to odes to motherhood, their upbringing is the soul behind their music. The name “Chapel Hart” itself is inspired by their hometown family church.
“I learned that our experiences really impact people around the world,” Swindle said. “Especially being three girls from Mississippi and having people from all over that understand that…it makes you appreciate the art that you’re able to bring and share with people.”
In an industry whose gatekeepers have historically kept women out, they have to find a balance between staying true to who they are and giving people what they want.
“It’s about finding the balance, maybe you have an idea you like, but there are maybe 10 people in front of you,” Danica Hart said. “Find out how you can innovatively connect your idea to their idea. It may not be your complete idea at first, but you have to share and give and take a little.
Authenticity is the approach Chapel Hart encourages all women to take in the workplace. “Bring yourself to the table,” Danica Hart said. “There’s something super special and super unique about you that no one else in the whole world has. You just have to keep showing up.
The group also pointed out that more women need to bet on themselves. “If it’s something you really believe in, no matter what you’re told, go for it,” Devynn Hart told Know Your Value. “There’s always that chance that you’ll come in and get exactly what you’re looking for.”
How did they become so confident? The band attributes their mindset to the country music pioneers who came before them – who were all told they didn’t fit the mold. “From Johnny Cash to Dolly Parton to Gretchen Wilson, the moment they came out they were told it wasn’t country,” Swindle said. “They weren’t made, [they were not] the norm… They were 1000% themselves [and] it’s hard not to take inspiration from it when you’re not the norm either.
For the pioneering group, their goals go far beyond music. “We want to be able to nurture the next generation,” Danica Hart said. “We want to be at this level of success in music, [but also] that level of achievement in literature and that level of achievement in the arts and education,” she added. “We’re going to keep bringing Chapel Hart.”