For Mickey Guyton, fighting for racial diversity in country music has become a passionate refrain in her career, not just a one-act show.
During a conversation on Oprah Daily’s Future Rising, a new interview series highlighting Black achievement, Guyton opened up about the resistance she’s encountered as a Black artist in the country music scene. The 38-year-old singer reflected on a tense meeting she had with a skeptical record label executive early in her career.
“Sitting there, I could tell one of the label heads was questioning me and my authenticity and grilling me on country music and if I knew it or not,” Guyton recalled. “I truly listened to country music growing up. I grew up in the South on gravel dirt roads – shouldn’t that be enough? ”
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Guyton added she was often held to a standard stricter when it came to her artistry, even though her white counterparts often drew inspiration from historically Black genres such as R&B and hip-hop.
“I was being told, ‘Make sure your songs sound really country’ cause people aren’t gonna think you’re authentic, ‘and in the same breath, I was literally listening to songs that were No. 1 on country radio with trap beats and R&B melodies, and these artists admitting that they were inspired by R&B songs, ”Guyton said.
But Guyton points out that country music is also part of the cultural heritage of the Black community.
“Country music and gospel and R&B have a way closer relationship than people think,” said Guyton, adding the banjo originated from Africa. “When you go to the Country Music Hall of Fame and you really look at the history of country music, some of the first things you see are Black people on their porch picking and clapping and dancing.”
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Guyton shared that while she’s often been “the only Black woman” in various spaces, this lack of representation has been especially difficult in her musical career, adding she’s had to navigate singing “at concerts in front of Confederate flags,” as well as verbal harassment.
“I was doing an after-show signing, and I went to hug this kid who had Down syndrome, and as I was going to hug him, somebody walked by and said,‘ Everybody’s waiting for the N-word, ’” Guyton recalled . “I remember everybody in the line turning around mortified, but nobody stood up for me.”
A native of Arlington, Texas, Guyton’s career has been a slow burn. A pair of EPs – “Unbreakable” in 2014 and an eponymous release in 2015 – earned her some attention with the single “Better Than You Left Me.” Guyton has been nominated for four Grammys and was invited to perform the national anthem at Super Bowl 56 earlier this year.
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Although Guyton has fought to carve out a successful career in country music for himself, she said she wants to use this platform to be a “voice for the voiceless,” especially other Black artists.
“I realized that it wasn’t enough to just see one Black person every 15-25, 30 years make it, Guyton said. “We need to see a sea of people of color (and) Black people make it in this industry. That has how you truly find change. ”
She concluded: “As much change as we’re seeing come forward, there’s still so much work to be done, and it’s a lot of weight to put on your shoulders, especially when you just wanna sing country music and put out cool songs like everybody else. ”
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Contributing: Melissa Ruggieri