Maren Morris' star shone as bright as ever during ABC's Wednesday night (Nov. 11) broadcast of the 2020 Country Music Association Awards (CMA Awards) from Nashville. "The Bones" won both Single of the Year and Song of the Year early in the broadcast, and Morris capped off an eventful evening as a first time winner of one of the CMA's top prizes, Female Vocalist of the Year.
For her final acceptance speech of the night, Morris went well beyond thanking her support team and a stacked list of fellow Female Vocalist of the Year nominees (Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Ashley McBryde and Kacey Musgraves). She truly championed a crowded table by teaching everyone watching at home about the rich history of Black women in country music.
"There's some names in my mind that I want to give recognition to because I'm just a fan of their music and they are country as it gets," Morris said. "I just want them all to know how much we love them back, and just check out their music after this. It's Linda Martell, Yola, Mickey Guyton, Rissi Palmer, Brittney Spencer, Rhiannon Giddens. There are so many amazing Black women that pioneered and continue to pioneer this genre. I know they're going to come after me. They've come before me. You've made this genre so, so beautiful. I hope you know that we see you. Thank you for making me so inspired as a singer in this genre."
The first artist mentioned, Linda Martell, made history in August 1969 when she became the first African American woman to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. That long overdue change by the Mother Church is just one of many discussion points about an artist who, like so many others to grace the Ryman or Opry House stage, relished the opportunity to add her own voice to a genre she loved as a child. It wasn't a happy story start-to-finish, though, as chronicled in a recent piece by Rolling Stone.
Yola's a multi-Grammy award-nominated roots rocker from Bristol, England, and she deserves her own shelf of trophies for being one of the most gifted singers in the wide world of Americana.
Nashville singer-songwriter Mickey Guyton delivers memorable live moments on such stages as the 2020 ACM Awards while consistently writing and recording top-notch material. Both truths make her lack of radio airplay the most telling condemnation of modern country music's track record with Black artists. Guyton's debut single "Better Than You Left Me" arrived in 2015. This year, she released "What Are You Gonna Tell Her," "Black Like Me" and "Heaven Down Here," from her album Bridges.
When Rissi Palmer's debut single, 2007's "Country Girl," reached as high as No. 54 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, it brought to light a maddening statistic. Palmer was the first African American woman to chart a song since Dona Mason teamed with Danny Davis of Nashville Brass fame for a 1987 cover of "Green Eyes (Cryin' Those Blue Tears)." Nowadays, Palmer provides women mentioned by Morris and other talents an invaluable platform with her Color Me Country podcast on Apple Music.
Last but certainly not least, Rhiannon Giddens does invaluable work as a roots musician and historian. She's a former star of TV's Nashville and a world-class banjo picker.
The six artists mentioned by Morris work as entry points into the rich history of Black women in country music. Names she missed include women on the ground level during and slightly after Martell's mainstream run (La Melle Prince, Ruby Falls) and current talents looking to crash the genre's glass ceiling (Tiera, Reyna Roberts).
Even with those bright spots, COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) marred this year's proceedings. Because of positive test results, Lee Brice got pulled from his Carly Pearce duet and fiddler Jenee Fleenor missed a chance to take part in McBryde, Dierks Bentley, Brothers Osborne and Jason Aldean's Charlie Daniels tribute. In addition, the coronavirus impacted scheduled performances by Lady A, Rascal Flatts and Florida Georgia Line.