Country music, even for those that have never paid close attention to the scene, has such strong imagery associated with it. Trucks, stetsons, cold beer, cowboy boots, stiff denim. We’re here today to take another look and perhaps see something different.
Get ready to saddle up and ride through the rich and diverse world of country tunes spun by some of the most talented black artists. With their twangy guitars and heart-rending lyrics, these singers have left an indelible mark on the country music landscape. Today on Ledger Note, it’s time for a hoedown so, dust off those boots and join us in celebrating the Top 10 Black Country Singers.
10. Lil Nas X
We begin with Lil Nas X, a perfect example of the blending of cultures and styles that has become prevalent in the mainstream over the last decade or so.
Beginning as an influencer with dreams of curating an online following without necessarily creating anything of their own, Montero Lamar Hill ran Nicki Minaj fan accounts on social media, before eventually going supernova with “Old Town Road”. An infectious blend of hip hop and country with a 10-gallon hook, “Old Town Road” became the longest-running #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100. Following up with “Rodeo”, featuring either Cardi B or Nas depending on the version, proved that the country flavor was much more than a one-off gimmick.
Mixing country with a dash of hip hop, Lil Nas X broke down genre barriers and proved that country can have a little bit of swag.
Style: Pro-Country Fusion
It can be quite rewarding to get in on the ground floor. Breland is a relative newcomer who emerged in 2019 with an eye for genre bending and an understanding of the crossover appeal of contemporary rap-flavored country music. Breland, with two EPs and one full-length to his name, is only just getting started, but clearly has a strong idea of where he wants to go.
Breland isn’t just a singer; he’s a genre-bending maestro. Melding country with R&B and a sprinkle of pop, Breland’s music is a sonic adventure. “My Truck” is a country anthem with a contemporary twist that will have you tapping your boots and nodding your head. Keep an eye on Breland; he’s steering country music into exciting new territories.
8. Mickey Guyton
Style: Modern Country
Mickey Guyton released her debut single in 2015 and wasted no time in making her presence felt in contemporary American music. She is a groundbreaker, as the first black female artist to receive Grammy nominations for Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Album.
Mickey Guyton’s voice is like a force of nature: powerful, soulful, and undeniably captivating. With tracks like “Black Like Me”, she not only showcases her vocal prowess but also addresses important themes of identity and diversity in the country music scene. Guyton’s music is a testament to the genre’s ability to evolve and embrace inclusivity.
7. Rhiannon Giddens
Style: Folk Roots
Rhiannon Giddens is the real deal. A writer and actor as well as a musician, Giddens has turned heads and won hearts whether performing at the White House for the Obamas or behind NPR’s famous Tiny Desk. Bringing a touch of folk to our country roundup, Rhiannon Giddens is a musical prodigy with a voice that resonates. Giddens dives into the roots of Americana, exploring the historical and cultural tapestry of the genre. “Freedom Highway” is a poignant journey through history, a reminder that country music is intertwined with the stories of diverse communities. Her unique take on the genre has not gone unrewarded. Giddens can count Grammys, a Pulitzer and a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant among her achievements.
6. Lesley Riddle
Style: Deep Folk
From the cutting edge back to the foundations of the genre, it has been suggested that country music would not exist, certainly not in its current form, without the playing of North Carolina’s Lesley Riddle. Riddle learned to play the guitar during his convalescence from a work accident that took his right leg below the knee. In his music, you can hear the missing link between country music and the blues. Riddle also acted as a sort of muse for the Carter family, whether accompanying A.P. on song-finding trips or helping Maybelle with her guitar tuition.
Whether through his own work, or his influence on one of the founding fathers of the genre, it is clear that Lesley Riddle is part of the firmament of country music. A 1993 album, Step by Step, released 13 years after Riddle’s death and made up of field recordings taken over a 13-year period beginning when he was 60 years old, is part album, part historical document, and completely wonderful.
Style: Country Soul
The First Lady of Country Soul; not the kind of title that gets bestowed on just anyone. For a sense of what Petrella is all about, look at her album titles, from her 1992 Country Versial to 2007’s 100 Proof Woman. Living proof and a reminder that sometimes the best thing about country music is that it doesn’t always take itself too seriously.
Petrella, the honky-tonk queen, brings a touch of sass and class to our list. With her velvety vocals and timeless hits like “Turn the Cards Slowly”, Petrella carved her name into the annals of country music, proving it can be both heartfelt and sassy, as she channels “Nutbush City Limits”–era Tina Turner with typical southern flair.
4. Cowboy Troy
Style: Country Rap
Hick-hop. It says it all and instigates a wild ride into the country-rap frontier with none other than the man who turned Nashville on its head: Cowboy Troy! Picture this: a towering figure with a cowboy hat, shades, and a mic, spitting rhymes that make you want to two-step and drop bars at the same time. It takes a man of rare talent and charisma to make playing chicken with a train sound fun.
Cowboy Troy isn’t your typical country artist; he’s the genre-bending maverick who decided to throw a hoedown right in the middle of hip hop. He’s like the musical lovechild of Johnny Cash and Snoop Dogg, and we’re here to tell you, it works like a charm. With beats that’ll make your pickup truck bounce and lyrics that ride the range from whiskey to rhinestones, Cowboy Troy is a force to be reckoned with in the world of country rap.
3. Ray Charles
Style: Soulful Curve
You don’t need us to tell you about Ray Charles. Referred to his contemporaries simply as “The Genius”, he was one of the pioneers of the soul genre. You’d be forgiven, however, for not immediately associating him with country music. In fact, Ray Charles almost single-handedly brought country music into the mainstream, releasing a two-volume collection Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music at the peak of his commercial powers in the early ’60s. “I Can’t Stop Loving You” is a timeless classic, and such a crossover hit that it topped the Billboard chart for five weeks, that showcases his ability to infuse soul into the heart of country music. To confirm his standing in the genre, in 2022 he became one of the first black artists inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Charles’s versatility and innovation continue to inspire generations of musicians.
2. Darius Rucker
Style: Contemporary Country
Not many people are lucky enough to crack the music industry once, let alone twice. But Darius Rucker can make that claim. With a voice smoother than Tennessee whiskey, Rucker transitioned from being the lead singer and rhythm guitarist with Grammy winners Hootie & the Blowfish to solo country stardom. Tracks like “Wagon Wheel” and “Alright” have become country anthems, earning Rucker a permanent spot in the hearts of country fans. His journey from ’90s rock to contemporary country is further testament to the genre’s welcoming embrace.
1. Charley Pride
Style: Classic Country
Every good hoedown needs a pacesetter, and we think we have the perfect one for ours. Charley Pride is an American icon and a leading light of country-western music. Pride’s talent was so obvious, and his popularity so huge, that he was the second–highest-selling act on RCA records, second only to some dude out of Mississippi by the name of Elvis Presley.
With a voice as warm as a southern summer night, Pride has released classics like “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'”, which have become the soundtrack of countless country-loving hearts. With 36 #1 singles on the country charts and 12 certified gold albums in a 17-year period starting in 1966, Charley Pride’s success is barely matched in any context, not only the country scene he came to define. As one of the first black artists to make a significant impact in country music, Charley Pride’s legacy is a beacon of inspiration for aspiring artists.
#11 Linda Martell
#12 Kane Brown
#13 Cleve Francis
#14 Jimmie Allen
#15 Amythyst Kiah
#16 Brittney Spencer
#17 Aaron Neville
#18 Trini Triggs
#19 O.B. McClinton
#20 Stoney Edwards
There you have it, folks: the Top 10 Black Country Singers. These artists have not only shaped the genre but have also proven that country music is a melting pot of influences, stories, and voices. So, grab a cold one, kick back, and let the twangy tunes of these trailblazers serenade you into the heart of country soul.
|Name of the Artist
|Lil Nas X