In November 2020, musician Mickey Guyton made history as the first black woman to earn a Grammy nomination in a country category for his hit single, “Black Like Me.” She released the song, which she later performed at the awards ceremonyas a way to help people heal and process the murder of George Floyd that same summer.
However, just before she reaches the projector, Guyton had almost went away of his dreams of success in country music. Now, in a new video with ELLE.com, she opens on her experience of being constantly told that there was no place for her in the industry, “not just as a black woman but as a woman”.
The truth is that itthe country is in Guyton’s DNA; the star grew up singing with Dolly Parton at her grandmother’s home in Texas. Yet as she sought a recording contract early in her career, white label executives questioned her authenticity and asked if she really knew country music. She told ELLE.com, “I grew up in the South on gravel dirt roads. Shouldn’t that be enough?
But it’s not just music executives who have questioned its place in the genre. Guyton once said she was hugging a fan during an after-show signing when “Someone came by and said, ‘Everyone’s waiting for the N-word.'” She continued, “But nobody stood up for me. It was really difficult.
According a recent study, between 2002 and 2020, about 1% of country radio shows included songs by black artists. Between 2000 and 2019, less than two percent of Country Music Award nominees and less than three percent of American Country Music nominees were people of color. But the irony of this lack of diversity is that country music only exists thanks to African influences.
“Some of the greatest musicians in country music learned from black people,” Guyton explained. “It’s time for people to recognize that.” The genre has deep roots in black culture, as well as jazz, blues, rock, and more. “Country music, gospel and R&B, they have a much closer relationship than people realize.”
The banjo, one of most recognizable instruments used in traditional country music, comes from Africa. The sound became part of the chants of slaves and spirit fields. But now the genre born in part from the tumultuous racial climate of the American South is dominated by white men who too often deny the legitimacy of black musicians.
At Guyton, tThe future of country music is diverse, both in the instruments used and the people who create it. When Lil Nas X released the country rap single “Old Town Road” in 2019, Billboard pulled it off the country charts, saying the song did not include “enough elements of today’s country music”. But Guyton said the genre includes a wider variety of sounds than people often realize. “When you listen to some of the modern sounds of country music, they have trap beats in them,” she said. “They sing R&B melodies with a twang.” For the industry to be more inclusive, she noted, people’s perspectives must also broaden.
Guyton’s The Grammy nomination opened doors for black and brown girls everywhere trying to succeed in a space where succeeding means defying the odds. “It’s something that God put on my heart,” she said, “to really stand up and be a voice for the voiceless.”
This year, the singer earned three Grammy nominations for her debut album, remember his name. She sang the national anthem to 2022 Super Bowl too. “My husband is a huge Rams fan. I was able to take my husband to the Super Bowl and his team won,” she said of the game. “It was something really amazing.”
Guyton is also releasing new music this summer and collaborating with other country artists, including Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard. “I developed a very good relationship with Tyler Hubbard, and he was a huge inspiration to me,” she shared. “They were such an unlikely couple. I’m really excited to share the music we wrote together.
While Guyton is proud of the progress she has made, her ultimate goal is to create meaningful change in country music as a whole, opening doors for those who deserve it. “One thing that I realized as I was trying to figure out how to leave a mark on this industry…I realized it’s not enough to see one black person every 15 to 25, 30 years succeed,” said she declared. “You have to see a sea of people of color, black people, succeeding in this industry, so it’s not taboo to see it. This is how you truly find change and success.
Hair by Hachoo Johnson, makeup by Emily Gray, styling by Memsor.
This story was created as part of Future Rising in partnership with Lexus. Future Rising is a series airing in Hearst Magazines to celebrate the profound impact of black culture on American life and shine a light on some of the most dynamic voices of our time. Go to oprahdaily.com/futurerising for the full portfolio.