It’s not well-known that African-Americans have been an integral part of country music since the early 1900s. Usually as musicians and they often got left behind, but their presence in country music is well-documented.
There are many African Americans who have not been left behind and made a name for themselves in the world of country music. These musicians have made quite an impact on the country scene and deserve recognition.
Let’s start with true country music legends. It would be remiss if they aren’t included in this top list of African Americans in country music. These are men who paved the way for African Americans to enter successfully the country music world. They must be given credit as such.
It seems only right to include Mr. Bailey in this article. He was not only a pioneer for African Americans in country music but was also the first performer to be introduced at the Grand Ole Opry.
His harmonica skills were absolutely first-class and his talent couldn’t be matched. He performed at the Grand Ole Opry for many years. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Sadly, that was 23 years after he passed away so he likely never knew exactly the influence he had on country music and musicians all over the world.
A musician who crosses all musical boundaries, Ray Charles made a significant contribution to country music. In the 1940s, he got his start in a country band called The Florida Playboys.
In the 50s, he began recording country music and in 1962 released an album dedicated to the country genre. He had a love for country music his whole life and throughout his career released many country singles. He introduced the country music genre to an entire generation and must be recognized as the man who is responsible for the explosion of popularity in country music.
Charley Pride is a true, living country legend. In his lifetime he’s recorded 52 top 10 hits, 29 No. 1 singles and sold over 70 million albums. Mr. Pride’s influence on the country world is nothing short of phenomenal. Interestingly, his face wasn’t shown on his single release covers so many country music listeners who heard him on the radio, had no idea he was African American. His voice was so smooth and wonderful that when listeners found out, they didn’t care. He put to rest any prejudice surrounding African Americans in country music by showing that music has no color.
There are other African American country music stars that are also making a huge impact. They are no doubt influenced by the legends mentioned before and deserve recognition of their own.
Carl Ray has been quoted as saying, “Country music has always been my special love, and Texas, my special place. Putting the two together just comes naturally.” Natural it is. With his smooth, tenor voice and his incredible personality, it’s obvious he loves country music.
Having made his start singing at local county fairs, he was quickly recognized by a rather world-famous promoter who saw in Carl an amazing talent. Since that time, Carl Ray has risen to a top place in the world of country music. He’s recorded several top singles and albums, most notably “I Love Country Music.” It is expected that we’ll hear many more great tunes from this tenor from Houston, Texas.
What started as a career in the Blues genre, morphed into an aspiring career in country music. After a difficult breakup, Milton heard the song “Whiskey Lullaby” by Brad Paisley and that was it. Milton was hooked.
In 2013, he sang that same Brad Paisley tune on America’s Got Talent where Howie Mandel said to Milton, “You’re a diamond in the rough.” From that moment, it’s been nothing but great accomplishments for this new addition to the family of country music. He’s chosen his own path instead of following trends. He’s writing his own songs, self-producing his own CD and is touring as well. He has a lot in the works so keep an eye out for this talented young man.
Troy Lee Coleman, III was given the nickname Cowboy Troy in college and it stuck. He brings a unique flair to country music as a country rapper. His most famous song “I Play Chicken with the Train” made it to Billboard Hot Country Songs and it was a #1 country music download on iTunes.
He’s made appearances on several television shows and recorded a duet with Sarah Bruxton. He’s also featured as a guest artist on a Vanilla Ice album. He’s currently touring and it’s anticipated we’ll hear more from this talented ‘Hick Hop” artist.
Country singer Cleve Francis was Dr. Francis the cardiologist before he launched his music career. In the 1980s, he made the giant leap from medical professional to a country artist and never looked back. He’s released three studio albums and has had four singles chart on the Billboard Hot Country Songs list. He’s known especially for a song he wrote as a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King.
The song, titled “Martin” is a moving work that is featured as the centerpiece of a CD titled “March On” which was produced by Warner Brothers and the Memphis National Civil Rights Museum.
Likely best known for his role as lead singer in the band called Hootie and the Blowfish, some may not realize Darius Rucker has made a significant contribution to country music. After his stint in that Grammy Award winning band, he made a switch to R&B. He had little success with R&B but that certainly didn’t stop him. He then went on to record his first country album and from that sprang a #1 single on the Billboard Hot Country Songs. This made him the first African American to reach the #1 spot since Charley Pride did it in 1983. He’s had numerous successful country songs since and he’s the first African-American to win the New Music Artist Award from the Country Music Association. Darius is definitely a versatile and talented artist with the ability to touch millions with his voice.
Now, it isn’t only men who make our list of Top African American Country Singers. There are women who should also be recognized for their contributions to the genre.
Having parents who loved country music, Rissi also grew to love the genre and knew at a young age she wanted to sing. Her debut took place in 2007 with a single titled “Country Girl.” This song landed her on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and made her the first African-American female to hit the chart since 1987.
She’s one of five top selling artists on iTunes, she’s been featured in a documentary produced by Country Music Television and her latest EP The Back Porch Sessions has garnered much positivity from critics. She’s a talented artist who holds dear her roots and upbringing and uses her own life and family as inspirations for her music.
Inspired by LeAnn Rimes and her version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” Mickey Guyton knew at the age of 8 she wanted to sing. She recorded her first extended play Unbreakable in 2014. She was on American Idol but unfortunately was cut before the live shows of the top 24. That didn’t deter her though.
Her debut single “Better Than You Left Me” was first performed at the Grand Ole Opry in 2015 and it hit the Billboard Country Airplay chart, as well. At the 2016 ACM Awards she was nominated for the New Female Vocalist of the Year. Quite an honor. There’s no doubt we’ll hear more great music from Mickey in the future.