Wednesday, June 9, 2021
– Black country music pioneer Linda Martell will be recognized with the CMT Equal Play Award during the 2021 CMT Music Awards tonight.
Mickey Guyton, Darius Rucker, Jennifer Nettles, Carrie Underwood, Rissi Palmer and Rhiannon Giddens will congratulate Martell during this year's awards as CMT highlights her place in music history as the first Black female solo country artist to perform on the Grand Ole Opry stage.
Martell, who just celebrated her 80th birthday last week, released one album and walked away from a bittersweetNashville career after one album. She released three pop-country singles about 50 years ago, including a Top-20 Billboard Hot Country Charts single "Color Him Father" in 1969.
Interest in Martell has resurfaced following the murder of George Floyd last year and the subsequent focus on racial issues in the country music industry.
"Linda Martell is a living legend who has influenced so many artists of color, giving them the courage and hope to pursue their dreams and a future reality of Equal Play in country music," said Leslie Fram, Senior Vice President, Music & Talent, CMT. "Linda embodies the spirit of our 'Equal Play' initiative and we are proud to honor her with this prestigious award."
Singer Rissi Palmer said, "Equal Play is imperative to the genre. It's how we go forward and paint a broader, more complex picture of what country music is and who country music represents. Thank you, Linda, for being brave, fearless, talented and beautiful, and for putting yourself out there, even when it was difficult. I can't think of anyone more deserving of this award."
Last year, Nettles received the inaugural "CMT Equal Play Award" for her continued advocacy for women and diverse voices in the music industry. This year, she congratulates Martell on receiving the CMT Equal Play award. "We are keenly aware of the need for more inclusivity and representation in the country community for women and people of color, and we are eternally inspired by all that it has taken for you to share your gifts with the world and the beautiful ways that you continue to do so."
CMT's Equal Play initiative was originally launched in 2019 in response to the lack of female representation in country music, specifically radio and streaming services. CMT Equal Play is designed to encourage and promote measurable industry-wide action and create an ongoing path for parity and diversity. CMT has committed to incorporating Equal Play across all of its platforms, including CMT Radio, and the creation of its own music video channel on ViacomCBS' Pluto TV, dedicated to a 50/50, female/male playlist.
Existing programs that fall within CMT's Equal Play efforts include the CMT Next Women of Country (NWOC) franchise, which is celebrating its eighth year with the most diverse class of up-and-coming female artists to-date.
Martell's country cover of The Winstons' hit R&B track, "Color Him Father," achieved unprecedented levels of success for an African-American female country vocalist by reaching the top 20 of the Billboard Hot Country singles chart. She was also the first African-American female performer to grace the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. Her debut album (also entitled "Color Him Father") followed in 1970.
Martell faced both name-calling and racism while on stage and was shunned by the industry as a mainstream country performer. Following the lack of success for her last debut album single, 1970's "Bad Case of the Blues," she was shelved by her label. She eventually returned to South Carolina to raise her family. She performed intermittently since and worked in the local school system in Irma, S.C.
Martell's granddaughter, Quia, is raising money for a documentary about her grandmother. She has received more than $21,000 in a Go Fund Me campaign. Palmer highlighted that effort on her Apple Music podcast Color Me Country on Sunday.
Martell also was namechecked along with Yola, Guyton, Palmer, Giddens and Brittney Spencer by Maren Morris when she accepted an award for Female Vocalist of the Year at the 2020 CMA Awards.