I caught a free show in San Francisco’s Union Square on my lunch break this afternoon—a country singer, with a voice rivaling Patti Loveless and Lucinda Williams. But this girl ain’t your standard Nashville crooner: Miko Marks is a Michigan native, current Oakland resident, and the first black country singer that I personally have ever seen.
Though country, like rock n’ roll, has its roots in black music, these days the twangy genres are not exactly renowned for their ethnic diversity. But Marks is a rising star, and she’s not the only one: Turns out that while the rest of us were drooling over Amy Winehouse, black women have been taking the country world by storm. Other notable names are Rissi Palmer, Sunny Daye, and Vicki Vann. While all three women draw on a variety of musical influences, there’s no question that the sound is country.
The country music establishment has started to take notice, as have the chroniclers of black popular culture: Ebony magazine recently profiled Marks as part of a feature entitled, “What Does Black Sound Like?” and more than one blog has applauded the women’s foray into an almost-totally white musical sphere.
Those looking to delve deeper into the world of black pickers and strummers should check out the artists of the Black Banjo Gathering, as well as the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the inimitable Charley Pride. But I know they’re not the only ones. Readers, who am I missing? What other black country or bluegrass artists should we know about? While you’re thinking, you can check out songs by Marks, Rissi Palmer, and Charley Pride here: