In early 2021, country music journalist and longtime fan Holly G found herself searching for an outlet that spotlighted Black artists within the genre. Aside from country artist Rissi Palmer’s landmark Apple Radio show Color Me Country Radio, which focuses on BIPOC artists and hosts conversations on inclusion and inequality, her search came up empty. She decided to do the work herself and launched Black Opry, a website that creates a space for Black artists in country, folk, Americana and beyond to be discovered and celebrated.
Within just a few months, the site became the headquarters of a grassroots coalition of sorts, where Black artists could connect with listeners and each other. During AmericanaFest in September, fellow music journalist Marcus K. Dowling rented a house in East Nashville that they nicknamed the Black Opry House. The building is not far from a place where the late Guy Clark once lived; decades ago, that now-demolished building was a place where musicians constantly trickled in from across the country to share songs and conversation while traveling through town, and the Black Opry House fostered a new version of that same magic. Black artists visited throughout the week, sharing songs, stories and forging important, life-altering connections.
Just a few weeks later, the first iteration of The Black Opry Revue was held at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall. The emotional one-night-only event featured performances from talented singer-songwriters Tylar Bryant, Lizzie No, Roberta Lea, Joy Clark and Jett Holden, and pushed Holly G to keep thinking big. On Dec. 18, The Black Opry Revue will head to Exit/In for its first Nashville showcase. She says that bringing the Revue to Nashville was important to her because the city is seen globally as the home and heart of country music.
“So many of these performers have had experiences with the doors in Nashville being shut in their face due to the color of their skin,” Holly G tells the Scene. “It means a lot to be able to hold a door open for them and hopefully demonstrate to Nashville that continuing to ignore the diversity that exists within country music is a mistake.”
The Music City installment of the showcase will once again feature sets from Holden, Clark, Lea, Bryant and No, along with Aaron Vance. In a town that’s rarely lacking for live entertainment, the Revue helps create a much-needed, long-overdue space for artists in a genre that is still overwhelmingly white.
“The beautiful part about our Revues is that they do such a good job of demonstrating the diversity in sound within Black country music,” says Holly G. “All of these artists have their own unique perspective and approach and represent a different iteration of the future of country music.”
You can also expect some very recognizable surprise guests to drop by, including Frankie Staton. The singer-songwriter co-founded the Black Country Music Association and has worked tirelessly to bring awareness to the racial inequality that has thrived in the country music industry.
“It feels monumental to have Frankie, who has been working for over 30 years to diversify this space, join this new generation of artists looking to do the same,” Holly G notes. “It’s important to me to honor those that have come before us doing this work, so it feels like a great privilege to have her join us.”
Holly G hopes The Black Opry Revue will feel like a safe space to share art and forge connections. She aims to eventually bring the Revue to other iconic country venues like the Ryman and even overseas, so the Exit/In show serves as a first step in what may well be a long journey for the Black Opry. These shows are much more than just a place to sing some songs, or a way to clear a seat at the country music industry’s table. It’s a method to break down the walls that have kept Black artists out of the genre they helped build from the beginning.
“I think what people will experience at the show is a homecoming,” she says. “For so many years Black people have been kept out of country music even though it was our talent and efforts that originated the sound. Whenever the Black Opry community gets together — whether it’s for a show, at a house, doing a panel or anything else — no matter what it’s for or where we are, there’s an intense feeling of home, created simply by us being in the same room and celebrating this music that we all love. That feeling resonates throughout whatever space we are in, and it never fails to feel like a healing experience.”