Tag: CMT

Holly G Loves Linda Martell “Color Him Father”

Holly G Loves Linda Martell “Color Him Father”

Holly G has been quite busy during the pandemic times — she created the Black Opry in April 2020, while the rest of us were still wiping down our groceries. With a goal of inviting everyone sitting outside the traditional Nashville music table, the Black Opry has taken off, from New York to an upcoming Nashville show in December. 

Holly G discusses her favorite one hit wonder with Sloane Spencer, and shares an unlikely history of how Linda Martell came to record her one hit wonder, “Color Me Father.” Plus, they discuss the politics of country music in a musical scene where some got unfairly pushed aside over the years, and how the Black Opry hopes to diversify Nashville in short order. 

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[00:00:00] Sloane: Hey, y’all, this is Sloane Spencer, and you found us at One Hit History. You might know me as the founder of the pioneering long form Americana podcast called Country Fried Rock, which these days is really just sort of my online Twitter persona. One Hit History asks music people, “What’s your favorite one hit wonder?”

[00:00:19] This has been my favorite backstage conversation for nearly 25 years. It always brings up incredible deep conversation and connections with music. It’s a nice short story because the person that we’re chatting with today, I found via Twitter, which has the great retweet feature and amplifies incredibly important content — sometimes.

[00:00:41] And I got lucky with this one. We’re chatting with Holly G of Black Opry. Gonna have Holly tell you more about what they have going on these days. And if you’re not already following them, stop by BlackOpry.com.

[00:00:53] Tell me what you’re up to these days. 

[00:00:56] Holly G: Yeah, I just started Black Opry actually in April of this [00:01:00] year. Is it still 2020? Yeah. And everything kind of like spiraled out of control in the best way. I had all these plans, like two or three years down the road, and everything that I had planned for so far away has begun to happen. We just did AmericanaFest back in September and we rented a house and we invited everybody that was a Black person in country, music, BiPOC, queer people, anybody that was sitting on the outside of the Nashville table.

[00:01:25] We invited everybody over and everybody jammed out, hung out, made connections. And three days later, after leaving AmericanaFest I got a call from Lizzie No, who’s one of the artists that I cover and she’s amazing. And she was like, “Hey, can we do a show in New York?” So we did our first Black Opry Revue on October 5th in New York.

[00:01:43] And since that show we’ve actually just booked another show. So December 18th — you are the first person I’m announcing this to — December 18th we are going to be at the EXIT/In in Nashville. So we’re super excited!

[00:01:55] Sloane: just got like full body goosebumps on all of that. Congratulations. [00:02:00] 

[00:02:00] Holly G: Thank you so much.

[00:02:02] It’s been a wild ride. My whole, you know, connection with country music has been very strained over the years as a Black woman who loves country. I never saw myself in it, so I haven’t been able to interact with the culture very much. So to launch Black Opry as a place, mainly just for me to be able to stop bugging my friends about country music.

[00:02:22] And now all of these people have shown up during AmericanaFest week. I got to have lunch with Leslie Fram from CMT, and I grew up watching. So it’s just like, everything has come full circle and it’s been super, super cool. And, you know, for as many people as there are, that are kind of gatekeeping country music, like I’ve been lucky to find the few that are trying to make it a better place.

[00:02:45] So we’ve been teaming up with those guys and we’re kind of knocking down doors. 

[00:02:50] Sloane:  That is fantastic. So in my day job life, I spent 10 years working in pop country radio, and I have zero background in country [00:03:00] music. I did not grow up with country music. I would not describe myself as a fan of country. And so I’ve really had to learn a lot of this.

[00:03:06] And the specific tweet that led me to finding you was related to a subject and a song that I knew nothing about. Well, let me take that back. I knew the song, but I didn’t know this version of the song. So Rissi Palmer, I believe, amplified the story of Linda Martell. Can we talk about this song? Is this going to be your one hit wonder?

[00:03:27] Holly G: Yes. First of all, I just want to say Rissi Palmer. I call her that patron saint of the Black Opry because I did not know there were so many people of color working in country music until I discovered her. And I also discovered Linda Martell through Rissi Palmer, who has an Apple Radio show called “Color Me Country,” which it named from

[00:03:46] Linda Martell’s one album that she was allowed to make during her time in Nashville, full circle. 

[00:03:52] Sloane: And this is such an amazing story. I didn’t know this story at all.  I knew that song though, because I’ve lived in [00:04:00] South Carolina, most of my life and the version of that song by the Winstons of “Color Him Father” is to this day, very, very popular in the South Carolina beach music scene.

[00:04:10] I grew with that version of that song imbued in my head and my body. And it’ll make me cry every time I hear it. There’s just something about the lyrics that are just incredible. Richard Lewis Spencer, wrote it. The interesting part of this story is how Linda Martell came to record “Color Him Father.”

[00:04:27] Holly G: I’ve been wondering about that because I discovered the song through Rissi as well.

[00:04:31] Sloane: Well I was not familiar with Linda Martell at all.

[00:04:33] Holly GI wasn’t either, as far as I knew before, like this past year, the only Black people I knew that had anything to do with country music were like Darius Rucker and Jimmy Allen and Mickey Guyton, those were the only ones I knew. And I started researching and that’s what actually led me to start Black Opry, because I was like, there’s no centralized location for this information.

[00:04:52] And I found Rissi and I followed along with what she was doing. And when she, when I heard the story of how she knew. Color Me Country, on her radio show. [00:05:00] I started looking into Linda Martell more. There’s something about that song. She has like a push and pull in her voice and it’s almost hypnotic.

[00:05:09] It just sounds like a little wave throughout the song. And I just love it. And I wondered was that because the way she sings it, it sounds like it’s something very personal to her. Then I realized it was a cover, but I don’t know the story of the cover. I’m really excited to hear that. 

[00:05:24] Sloane: So this one is fascinating.

[00:05:25] And as I said, when we were first talking, I have known the Winstons’ version of the song my entire life, never heard of Linda Martell. Never heard her take on it until this whole Twitter exchange came up and I went and listened to it. And Linda Martell’s voice, this is a beautiful country take on it.

[00:05:41] And I love cover songs that become their own thing, which is exactly what this one does. It’s a beautiful 1970 take, very country, very accessible in her voice. It does — it pulls you in and it lets you go and it pulls you in and it lets you go. And the [00:06:00] story, just if this song doesn’t make you cry, there is something wrong.

[00:06:04] I mean, every time I hear it, it’s just in her voice. Just bring something so fresh and new. And I was like, I have got to start learning about this in the first thing that I discovered as I started Googling her back when this whole exchange was going on, they were like, oh yeah, by the way, she lives in South Carolina.

[00:06:18] And I was like, shut the front door. I have lived here. Most of my adult life and I have never heard of her. Nobody is amplifying what she did, what’s going on. And so I started looking into it and so things don’t necessarily go in what would be the logical order. The first thing I found was her granddaughter was in the process of trying to raise funds for a documentary to highlight Linda Martell’s career.

[00:06:41] And by the way, y’all should look that up because it’s still in process and there’ve been some funds that came to it from CMT. We’ll talk about the CMT connection in a minute, but the granddaughter is Marquita Thompson, and you can just kind of Google their names and that GoFund me will come up. So Linda Martell grew up in Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina, which is even now [00:07:00] extremely rural.

[00:07:01] It’s only about 45 minutes outside the capital, Columbia, but it is a very, very rural part of our state. And she grew up singing, gospel music and R&B music and she and a cousin and a sister started a girl group when they were in late high school and nothing happened. And someone heard her singing gospel music down —

[00:07:24] It’s always referred to as “at an air force base” and given the geography, it has to be Shaw Air Force Base because that’s down in Sumter, which is geographically the same part of the state. And someone heard her singing and was like, “You have got to do country music.”

[00:07:40] And she really thought it was just some huckster and completely blew it off for quite some time. And this person kept reaching back out to her and kept reaching back out to her. Well, turns out this person was kind of a Hitmaker from Nashville and was legit. And they brought her up to Nashville to record this country album.

[00:07:58] And he was a [00:08:00] Hitmaker his name was Shelby Singleton. He was a producer of all kinds of stuff with like Ray Stevens and Jerry Lee Lewis and Roger Miller, Charlie Rich. So he was legit and they recorded this gorgeous record and she was on the Grand Ole Opry. She was the first Black woman to be on the Grand Ole Opry stage.

[00:08:18] And we’re talking 1970 here. We’re not talking 1920. This is unbelievable. She ultimately went on to be on the Grand Ole Opry for about 12 times. One little side note about the Grand Ole Opry. They don’t, to this day, they don’t keep track of how many times people are on there. The Opry has no record of this.

[00:08:37] I find this bizarre. At any rate, she was on the Opry. I mean, this song was huge. It was a massive hit. As you can anticipate when it got time for touring in 1970, you’re going to take a country singer to places like Oklahoma and Texas and audiences were very much representative of where they [00:09:00] really were, which was systemic pervasive racism.

[00:09:03] And her career, in my opinion, was stymied and ultimately stifled directly because of systemic and pervasive racism of the community, the fandom, the business itself, and of the people who were actually working directly with her. 

[00:09:18] Holly G: Yeah, we should be saying Linda Martell’s name. She should be like one of the greats.

[00:09:23] Like we should be talking about her the same way that we talk about all of the other greats, because you know, she had that trajectory to get exactly to where all of her white counterparts went, but she just got stuffed aside. 

[00:09:37] Sloane: When people are like, oh, you know, maybe she just wasn’t ready for the success that she saw.  I’m like, no, the record label she was on was called Plantation.

[00:09:47] Holly G: Yeah, that was it. Right there. 

[00:09:49] Sloane: Come on. Just, you don’t even have to say anything to her face for her to know that she is working in a racist business and racist world and the people right there who own the company that [00:10:00] are supposedly amplifying the art she’s making are also at the same time saying to her,

[00:10:04] “Yep. We own you.” And they did. 

[00:10:07] Holly G: I mean, that was the only relationship that they really knew how to have with Black people back then, you know, had to be ownership and not much has changed with that today. If you look at, you know, recently there was a drama around Kacey Musgraves not being eligible for country music Grammy.

[00:10:24] And the head of the label wrote a letter to the Recording Academy and basically credited Kacey Musgraves with Mickey Guyton’s success this year. She said, you know, my artist, Mickey Guyton is only doing what she’s doing now because of what Kacey did. And I’m like, no Kacey Musgraves does not own Mickey Guyton’s story.

[00:10:43] The president of the label doesn’t own Mickey Guyton’s story. Mickey Guyton is responsible for exactly all of the successes she’s had based on her work and what she’s done. And it’s like, anytime, a Black woman gains any type of ground or footing the white people in the industry tried to find a way [00:11:00] to like leash it back to a white person so that they can validate it.

[00:11:04] And I’m hoping that soon we can get to a point where we’re validated on our own merit and our own talent. I mean, if you look at what Mickey’s done, she deserved that. And she did that on her own label. She wants to talk about what they’ve done for her. They let her sit on the label for 10 years and do nothing.

[00:11:18] I wouldn’t be bragging about that. Look at the success that she’s gotten just in this year. But the first year she got to Nashville, she got signed, she’s done the White House, she did all of the things and she was putting out the songs, “Better Than You Left Me” came out, I think, a couple of years later, but she was writing really, really good music.

[00:11:37] So, you know, the fact that it took so long is a reflection of the label, not a reflection of her talent. 

[00:11:42] Sloane: Absolutely. And having worked in pop country music on the radio end of this for a decade, I can speak to the fact that country music specifically does have its own world of the way it operates. And they very much control the careers of [00:12:00] those who find themselves in it.

[00:12:02] Holly G: They make it seem like there’s a path. And if you do these things, that’s the path. But the parts that they don’t tell you is that every step of that path, there are people there that you have to be in with that will kind of pull the levers to say whether or not it goes well. And most of it is money driven, but I mean, even if you make the money, if you’re not what they want to see, it’s not going to work.

[00:12:24] You can’t convince me that Linda Martell wouldn’t have made them a ton of money. 

[00:12:29] Sloane: I agree with you so much, especially after having worked in this field for as long as I did and kind of coming at it originally as an outsider, because my experience had been in other parts of music that function similarly, but not the same.

[00:12:41] And just as a little side note, if you have not read the actual text of what that record label executive wrote about the Kacey Musgraves, supposed snub by the Grammy’s, but then what the exec specifically and in written word wrote about Mickey Guyton, it is shocking. It’s worse to actually read the [00:13:00] real full document.  We are not making this into more than it was. 

[00:13:06] Holly G:  I paraphrased it very nicely for her, but it just, it really just reminded me. She is doing exactly what they did. She was trying to do exactly what they did to Linda. She’s putting her in that same context. Like, this is our property and look how good it’s doing now that we’ve dragged it along with the white lady in that.

[00:13:23] What happened? 

[00:13:24] Sloane: What happened with Linda Martell’s career is that the record label saw some early success with Jeannie C Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA,” and they basically shoved Linda Martell aside because they felt that Jeannie C Riley was more marketable. 

[00:13:37] Holly G: That’s exactly what happened with the Kacey and Mickey thing.  They came to Nashville right around the same time. 

[00:13:46] Sloane: Exactly. I a hundred percent agree, especially having seen this happen over and over and over again with brilliantly talented folks, looking back with the, you know, 51 years or so of 2020 vision, so to speak with [00:14:00] what happened with Linda Martell, and now being able to see the bigger picture of what happened.

[00:14:02] She literally was just shoved aside because she was the Black lady.  It’s stunning. It’s so interesting to me how such an important, not only event, but the multiple events that being on Hee Haw was a big deal.  I mean, multiple visits and being on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, having a number one hit, these things are really, really big deals in and of themselves.

[00:14:23] But the fact that those stories can be squashed and swept aside so easily, as well, is really shocking. 

[00:14:30] Holly G: Yeah, I think that reflects back on what you said about it being important for, you know, the Grand Ole Opry to collect data, because it makes me wonder how many other Black country stars we could have had, because I’m sure that she’s not the only one that got pushed aside.

[00:14:45] That way, the narrative has told us, country music is a very conservative, white genre. But the more research that I’ve done over the past year, the more things I’ve learned. Black people started it, white people that we know to be the pioneers of country music learned all of it from Black [00:15:00] people. So I have a hard time believing that there were no Black people that were actually pushing themselves forward as artists.

[00:15:07] We just don’t have the data.

[00:15:07] Sloane: Right. Southern art and Southern music specifically had community bases of how they started. And then what happened when they became commercialized and how that changed. And a lot of it is that commercial structures very intentionally left Black people out of the story. 

[00:15:24] Holly G: Oh, we’re not marketable.

[00:15:26] SloaneI want to be sure that y’all go and check out. Linda Martell’s take on “Color Him Father.” It is a gorgeous song, originally released in 1970; the album, as we said, was called “Color Me Country,” which is also the honorary aspect of the name of Rissi Palmer’s radio show on Apple. So y’all should definitely check all of that sort of stuff out.

[00:15:46] I want to talk real quickly about the guy who wrote the song. Richard Lewis Spencer, really interesting musician. Started playing tenor sax with Otis Redding, his band, the Winstons, backed Curtis Mayfield for a long time. He won a Grammy [00:16:00] for his version of the song, which, as I said, is the version of the song that I grew up with.

[00:16:04] And little bit of like music ephemera and trivia that you just might win trivia night over one night, he is the guy and his song is known for what is called the “Amen Break.” And if you know about music sampling, this is the most sampled drum beat. Which is really interesting to me, because I grew up singing this particular song in church.

[00:16:24] And I didn’t realize that it’s a relatively new song from like the early 1960s. I had no idea. So I grew up in the seventies and eighties singing this exact song in church. And it’s the song that’s “Amen.” And I am not a singer by any means, but if you pull up the Winstons “Amen,” you’ll find it, but it’s super, super famous and recognizable.

[00:16:42] So it’s the same guy. It’s just a really interesting connection to where music sources overlap with gospel and ultimately R&B. And obviously he spent a long time in the soul world into the funk section, working with Curtis Mayfield. Absolutely fascinating. Definitely check those songs [00:17:00] out. So tell us more about what’s up with Black Opry.

[00:17:04] Holly G: I’m just trying to, you know, create as many opportunities as I can for all of these artists that I’m finding, because I mean, it’s not just the Linda Martell’s that got overlooked in the past, there are tons of current artists from every decade as good as Linda Martel. There’s Frankie Staton, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

[00:17:28] And she’s actually going to be a special guest at the Black Opry Revue. Frankie Staton has been making music since like the seventies and she started the Black Country Music Association back in the nineties. And they would do showcases at the Bluebird, and, you know, she kind of paved the way for everything that I’m doing right now.

[00:17:42] I didn’t know that that existed when I started what I was doing, but as I started researching, you know, figuring out who she was and I met her and I’m like, “Oh my God, you are the reason that I’m able to do this, because you did it all these years ago!’ And she’s incredible. And she came and she hung out with us at AmericanaFest and it was [00:18:00] shocking for her because we had a house full of Black country musicians.

[00:18:03] And she was like, I did not think that I would see this in my lifetime. There’s so many of you guys and you’re all together, and there was so much respect and just peace and love in that room. And everybody kind of took turns playing and you could see how much they admired each other when they were. We had some of the more successful musicians, Brittany Spencer, Raina Roberts.

[00:18:25] They came by and hung out with us. And then we had people that there was one young lady that came and that was the first time she’d ever played a song in front of anybody. Wow. And everybody was able to absorb all of that and you could see all these different generations. Miko Marks came by and Miko came to Nashville, you know, way back in the early two thousands and tried to make a go at a country career.

[00:18:47] But she was pushed out of Nashville because she was a Black one. And now here she is 13 years later coming back onto the scene and killing it just like she was doing before. But you know, now it’s opened up a little bit more. [00:19:00] Rissi stopped by for a little bit to have brunch with us. I mean, there was just so many different songs telling the story.

[00:19:05] It felt like it was one long story and we just had people from so many different places on that story. All on that one. Honestly, I’m not, I don’t come from the music industry background. I’m a music super fan. It’s always been the way that I’ve connected with other people in the way that I understand myself and the world around me.

[00:19:21] So I feel like I’m living every music fan’s dream. Imagine if you find a song and you absolutely love it. And instead of putting it on repeat, you can call the person and ask them a million questions about it. Nobody’s gotten annoyed with me yet, but that’s basically what I’m able to do right now.

[00:19:40] Sloane: Incredible. Really cool. Yeah. When we were first talking today, you mentioned Lizzie No. Now I just met Lizzie No earlier this month for the first time — saw an amazing outdoor festival — totally packed, completely silent, listening to her play. 

[00:19:59] Holly G: She like hypnotizes you. She plays — for anybody not familiar with her — she plays the guitar, but then she also has a traveling harp. Like I didn’t even know that existed. Mesmerizing. 

[00:20:11] Sloane: We do have plans to chat with her soon on this or one of the other programs, (which I also have another podcast called Bubble Bottles, where my other favorite backstage conversation with musicians is:  what’s your favorite carbonated beverage?

[00:20:22] Because a lot of people are obsessed with weird carbonated beverages. Like I am. So that’s a whole ‘nother subject.) Lizzie No is incredible and you’ll definitely need to check out her music and she’s got a new record coming out.  

[00:20:32] Holly G: She’s actually also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life. You cannot be around her and not laugh.

[00:20:38] And she makes these really off the wall jokes with a completely straight face. She’s multi-faceted. And she has been such a wonderful pivotal part of everything that we do. And I found her before I started Black Opry. I actually didn’t know she was a musician when I started following her. She’s really cool.

[00:20:58] I really wanted to be [00:21:00] friends with her. And then I started looking into her music and I was like, well, I’m happy to be friends with them really fast because she’s going to be famous soon. Luckily she did not block me. I actually did end up being friends. She has been such an integral part. She hung out with us.

[00:21:15] She actually stayed at the house with us. And Lizzie is a reason why we were able to do the first Black Opry Revue. So I’ll tell you the full story. Lizzie had a date in New York. She had two dates in New York and one of the dates, she had another person on the bill and the other person had to back out at the last minute.

[00:21:34] So instead of calling up, you know, musicians everywhere — and I’m sure there are any number of people that would drop whatever they’re doing to play a show with her — but instead of doing that, she actually called me and she said, “Hey, can we do a Black Opry Revue? I want everybody that played at the house to come play with me on stage.”

[00:21:51] Wow. So instead of having one other person play a set, she actually sacrificed her entire set. And we took the night and we put everybody on stage in a [00:22:00] songwriter’s round like they do in Nashville, taking the country music format to New York, and they loved it. 

[00:22:06] Sloane: There’s a lot of video out there about that. Y’all you should definitely look it up, Black Opry Revue R E V U E you’ll find it real quickly. 

[00:22:13] Holly G: Lizzie insisted on spelling it that way; you gotta be old timey, right?

[00:22:20] It’s such a testament to the connection that these artists all have when they’re able to meet each other and be in community with each other that they’re willing to sacrifice, you know, stage time is a big deal, especially, and she was like, no, I want to, I want to do this with my time. It was amazing, but now so much has grown from that.

[00:22:37] Sloane: Wow. <pause> I am a cis het middle-class white woman who lives in the South, and one of the things that I say amongst my friends often is, you know, there are ways that you can amplify what’s happening for other people. And one of the main ways you can do that is by stepping aside and letting someone else have the seat at the table.

[00:22:58] And she certainly didn’t have to do that, but that’s also where people like me need to be able to find those voices. So I’m speaking here mostly to the white audience who is listening. There are times when you need to step aside and give someone else the seat at the table in order to do that. There are opportunities that come our way, where that may not initially come to folks’ minds and what a difference that that can make.

[00:23:20] So keep that in the back of your minds, for those of you who maintain the power and hold the power, and don’t realize the ways that you can improve the world. By stepping aside, 

[00:23:30] Holly G: Rissi had Cam and Maren Morris on one of her shows, and one of the things that they both talked about, that they could do with their power is, you know, they have enough success now to where if they get booked or get offered a booking for a show and they notice it’s an all-white bill, they were like, we need to speak up and say, no, we need more people of color on this bill.

[00:23:52] We need more women on this bill, whatever it is to make things more diverse. And I don’t think people always realize when and where they have power. Because, [00:24:00] especially as women, we’re usually, you know, told any little bit that we get is a gift. So sometimes it’s not second nature for us to ask for more, especially for somebody else.

[00:24:10] But that’s the only way that all of us get anywhere is when we pull up the people that are oppressed a little bit further than us. And then everybody gets pushed forward. 

[00:24:19] Sloane: Absolutely. I agree. And I have been part of the community that did not do the right thing at different times. And I found myself creating my own situation, where I was continuing to do similar things with my previous podcast, in that it became “the white guy podcast.”

[00:24:37] And I didn’t know how to undo that. So, I stopped it because I didn’t know at the time how to change what I was doing. And instead I just quit and stepped aside completely from podcasting in order to find a way that I could be much truer to what I truly believe in amplifying voices, where I have the [00:25:00] platforms and the power to do so.

[00:25:01] And so that’s kind of what led to the rethinking that ultimately led to this podcast, One Hit History, but it was a long time in coming. Some of the thoughts behind it and where I was in my growth personally. 

So, Holly G of Black Opry and Black Opry Revue, again, going to have that incredible show in Nashville at the legendary EXIT/In December 18th.

[00:25:21] You heard it here. Thank you so much for joining us today and talking about Linda Martell’s country version of “Color Him Father” from 1970. 

[00:25:29] Holly G: No problem. It was so much fun. 

[00:25:31] Sloane: You want to find some outtakes from our conversation,

[00:25:36] you can find them at patreon.com/onehithistory. All of our podcasts are available in your favorite podcast locations. Go ahead and subscribe and give us those five star reviews. Believe it or not, they make a huge difference for small podcasts like this. Buy the music from the artists that we have talked about today, Brittany Spencer, Raina Roberts,  Miko Marks. Rissi Palmer, Lizzie No, and many others.

[00:25:56] And of course, go back and look for that Linda Martell record “Color Me Country.” This has been One Hit History with Holly G of Black Opry. Thanks for listening.

DISCLAIMER:  One Hit History is a comedy podcast. What you hear may or may not be true and is all for fun. All comments are the opinions of the host and guests.