Since its emergence in the early 20th century, traditional country music has been predominantly white, both as performers and the listening audience’s demographic.
But in recent years, that stereotype has long been gone, as African American artists broke through into the country music mainstream to make names for themselves. Some helped establish the genre, while others took previous sounds and traditions and fit them into a new, blended mold that better suited their culture.
Keep reading to learn more as we take a look at 22 of the greatest and most famous black country singers you may know, as well as others with whom you may not be familiar yet.
Related: Check out our list of other famous black singers here.
1. Darius Rucker
Born and raised in South Carolina, music was a huge part of Darius Rucker‘s family. The family attended church every Sunday, where Rucker heard the influence of religious music, and his father was in a gospel band called The Traveling Echoes.
Rucker found the bulk of his professional success with Hootie and the Blowfish after their formation at the University of South Carolina in 1986, going on to top pop music charts throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. He struck out on a solo career in 2001 with his debut album, The Return of Mongo Slade.
In 2008, Rucker launched his foray into country music with Capitol Records Nashville and became the second-ever Black artist to top Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs list after Charley Pride.
The Country Music Association titled him a New Artist Award one year later, making him the second black musician ever to receive that honor. With vocals heavy and thick as Southern molasses and a stage presence to break barriers, it’s no question that Rucker will remain in the country spotlight for many years to come.
2. Charley Pride
Within country music, Charley Pride is the most successful black country musician to date. After Elvis Presley, Pride is the second best-selling artist at RCA Records. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, won three Grammy Awards, and was also named the Country Music Entertainer of the Year.
One of the most interesting aspects of his musical success is that it is actually his second career. Pride was first a professional baseball player in the Negro American League, Memphis Red Sox, Boise Yankees, and various other baseball teams throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
During his baseball career, he continued to nurture his love for music by performing at local clubs and events. In 1966, Pride’s destiny took a significant turn when he caught the attention of Chet Atkins, a renowned country music producer.
In 1967, Pride released “Just Between You and Me,” which became his breakthrough hit, reaching the top 10 on the country charts. His success marked a groundbreaking achievement as he became one of the first African American artists to achieve commercial success in country music.
3. Ray Charles
Though most people think of Ray Charles as an R&B and soul legend, he did more for country music than they might realize. According to Willie Nelson, Charles was more effective in boosting the genre with his album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music than any other figure!
One of the standout tracks from this album is “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” a country ballad originally written and performed by Don Gibson. Charles’s rendition of this song not only showcased his remarkable vocal prowess but also introduced country music to a broader audience.
Growing up in Georgia — about which he would later write one of his most famous songs — Charles was no stranger to Southern music traditions. He wove country music elements into his music throughout his career, even on albums that weren’t explicitly released into the genre of country.
Tunes like “Seven Spanish Angels” and collaborations with Willie Nelson and Travis Tritt intertwined Charles into country music even as he made the most impact in R&B. In the 1960s, Charles produced the Modern Sounds albums but continued his influence in country music in the 1980s with the release of Friendship.
4. Linda Martell
Born Thelma Bynem, South Carolina native Linda Martell is a pioneering African American country singer. As a teenager, Martell formed an R&B trio The Anglos, alongside her sister and cousin. During this time, she adopted the stage name Linda Martell at the urging of Big Saul, a local DJ.
In 1969, Linda Martell made history by becoming the first African American woman to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, one of the most prestigious venues in country music. This groundbreaking achievement marked a significant milestone for both Martell and the genre as a whole.
Martell’s biggest hit came in 1969 with the release of “Color Him Father,” a poignant song about a biracial child seeking acceptance from his father. The song reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was well-received by audiences.
Despite her early success, she stepped away from the country music scene in the early ’70s. Since then, Martell has been taking on various jobs related to music, including a cruise ship entertainer and a singer for weddings and family functions.
5. Rhiannon Giddens
Americana powerhouse Rhiannon Giddens burst into the spotlight in the early 2000s with her country, blues, and folk band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops. She has since collaborated with various prominent artists such as Ben Harper and Amanda Palmer, weaving her talent into multiple genres.
Giddens makes it her mission to bring to life the lost sounds of past slave cultures, as well as African-American traditions in Appalachia and the South.
Her voice is a full-bodied mezzo, with the classic trills and tight vibrato of the Appalachian singing style. Aside from singing, Giddens also plays fiddle and banjo and arranges much of the music she performs.
She is the recipient of several Grammy Awards and a MacArthur Fellowship, which join her impressive list of other honors both in and out of the country music genre.
In 2019, NPR featured Giddens in one of their Tiny Desk Concerts. Most recently, Giddens’ voice made the leap from the musical stage to TV, providing the soundtrack for shows including Nashville and Parenthood.
6. Kane Brown
Though still relatively new on the scene, Kane Brown is making waves in country music with chart-toppers like “Heaven” and “One Mississippi.”
His breakthrough came in 2015 when his cover of George Strait’s “Check Yes or No” went viral, eventually leading to a record deal with RCA Nashville. Subsequently, he released his debut single “Used to Love You Sober,” which also garnered immense online attention and charted well on digital platforms.
Brown’s rich, low baritone voice is reminiscent of American country singer Randy Travis. He performs in a modern pop-country style, writing much of his own material. He delights fans with his soulful singing as well as his quirky personality, sharing fun trivia facts in interviews.
He currently tours around the US, having appeared with other well-known country artists like Lauren Alaina. Brown and Alaina’s “What Ifs” became his first #1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. This achievement marked him as the first artist to have a chart-topping song simultaneously on all five main Billboard country charts.
7. Mickey Guyton
Though not a newcomer to the country music scene, Mickey Guyton entered the national spotlight in February 2022 when she sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl LVI. She had been actively working in Los Angeles and Nashville for nearly a decade prior.
Originally from Texas, Guyton’s music incorporates R&B, gospel, and pop elements into a country style. She often sings about her experience as a black woman and specifically how that manifests within the country music industry.
Guyton gained attention with her debut single, “Better Than You Left Me,” earning her a spot as an opening act for several prominent country artists. Her subsequent releases, including songs like “Heartbreak Song” and “Sister,” continued to showcase her unique blend of traditional country elements and contemporary influences.
Guyton is honored to be the first African American to ever perform at the American Country Music Awards. She is also the only black artist to garner a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album.
8. Lesley Riddle
Part historical influence, Lesley Riddle had an enormous impact on the beginnings of country music. The North Carolina native took up guitar in the 1920s after a work injury left him with an amputated leg in the 1920s.
He made rounds as a singer around Appalachia, sharing his musical talent with the lyrical knowledge of A. P. Carter. Together, the two would provide a framework for codifying the sounds of the region and directing the development of the folk-country genre.
Riddle retired from music in the 1940s but took it up again in the 1960s at the encouragement of folk musician Mike Seeger. Riddle appeared at folk festivals and contributed to a series of studio albums during this time, though he never rose to the level of prominence of other country artists.
Riddle’s friendship and musical influence on what would later be the Carter Family Band meant that the strains of country and folk tunes he helped collect would enter the mainstream.
9. Cleve Francis
A cardiologist first, Cleveland “Cleve” Francis left his career in the medical field to become a country musician. He was active in entertainment for less than 15 years before returning to work as a cardiologist again.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Francis recorded five studio albums, and his songs made the Billboard charts four times. He became semi-famous in country music with his hits “Love Light,” “You Do My Heart Good,” “Walkin’,” and “How Can I Hold You.”
He returned to his first profession in 1994 and subsequently became the president of Mount Vernon Cardiology Associates. However, despite resuming his cardiologist career, Francis still occasionally performs with his band.
10. Jimmie Allen
Another fairly new artist in the country genre, James Edward Allen is better known by his nickname Jimmie. Jimmie Allen‘s musical journey began at a young age, performing in local venues and honing his songwriting skills, eventually making his way to Nashville, Tennessee, which is often considered the heart of country music.
In 2017, Jimmie Allen signed a record deal with Broken Bow Records. He released his debut single the following year, “Best Shot,” which quickly gained traction on the country music charts. His second single “Make Me Want To” also topped the Billboard Country Airplay charts
Allen is the second African American artist to win the Country Music Association Award for New Artist of the Year (the first was Darius Rucker), an amazing feat for an artist who is still in the early stages of his career.
Aside from his solo work, Allen has also collaborated with other artists, such as Brad Paisley, Noah Cyrus, and Noah Schnacky. As of this writing, his latest activity is serving as a judge on the country music TV show My Kind of Country.
The self-proclaimed First Lady Of Country Soul, Petrella grew up in Arkansas and continued her education in Missouri. Born Petrella Ann Bonner, she has been inclined to music since childhood, singing in her church choir.
It was in 1988 that she earned a recording contract. Her throaty voice and energetic songwriting have achieved moderate success in Nashville, garnering her several awards from organizations such as the Tennessee Songwriters Association. Her song “Living on a Shoestring” earned her the Songwriter of the Year award.
In 2008, Petrella signed with Warner Bros. Records, and her song “I Want to Know You Forever” peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot Single Sales. She has released a total of nine studio albums in various genres, including gospel.
Aside from music, Petrella has launched forays into theater and philanthropy. Most notably, she staged 8 Reasons to Live, Laugh and Love, a one-woman show in 2009.
12. Cowboy Troy
Born Troy Lee Coleman III, the performer who goes by the stage name Cowboy Troy has made his mark on the subgenre of country rap. He playfully refers to this genre as hick-hop.
The Dallas-born performer enjoyed his first bit of fame with a rap breakdown in the middle of Big & Rich’s 2004 hit “Rollin’ (The Ballad of Big & Rich).” Troy has collaborated with Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich often, both of whom are also members of the MuzikMafia country music aggregate.
In 2005, Cowboy Troy released his debut solo album titled Loco Motive, featuring the track “I Play Chicken with the Train,” which peaked at #48 on the US Billboard Country chart. The album received mixed reviews from critics but garnered a dedicated fanbase
Though he put out seven studio albums and one EP, he does not currently tour, nor does he seem to be active in the music industry as of the past few years.
13. Amythyst Kiah
Hailing from the heart of country music, Tennessee, Amythyst Kiah‘s musical journey began at an early age when she was introduced to a wide range of genres, including gospel, blues, and folk, by her father.
In 2010, she was in a band called Her Chest of Glass. Three years later, she released her debut solo album, Dig, which she produced herself and with the support of her alma mater, East Tennessee State University.
Kiah gained widespread recognition in 2019 as a member of the folk group Our Native Daughters, alongside Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell. The group’s album Songs of Our Native Daughters explored the history and experiences of black women in America.
In 2021, Kiah gained further recognition with her album Wary + Strange. This project pushed the boundaries of country music even further, incorporating elements of rock and alternative sounds.
A rising star in the music industry, Breland‘s music defies traditional genre boundaries, fusing elements of country, hip-hop, and R&B. He gained widespread attention with his hit single “My Truck,” which he penned himself.
“My Truck” became a viral sensation on social media platforms like Instagram, showcasing Breland’s ability to bring country rap music to the younger generation The song’s success led to a major record deal with Bad Realm/Atlantic Records.
In 2020, Breland released his self-titled EP, which peaked at #48 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. The EP featured “My Truck,” along with other hits like “Hot Sauce” and “Horseride.”
Beyond his genre-defying singing and rapping, Breland is also a talented songwriter. He penned two songs alongside Keith Urban, “Out the Cage” and “Soul Food.” He has also collaborated with Thomas Rhett, a renowned country singer-songwriter.
15. Brittney Spencer
A recent addition to the roster of black country music artists, Brittney Spencer started her musical career as a background singer for Carrie Underwood and Christopher Cross, all while attending university at Middle Tennessee State University.
Finding it challenging to break through the country music scene, Spencer posted a cover of The Highwomen’s song “Crowded Table” in 2020. The video went viral on Twitter, which eventually led to a record deal.
Spencer released her debut EP Compassion that same year. Though the album received a lukewarm reception, this didn’t dampen Spencer’s passion. Her 2021 single “Sober and Skinny” was nominated for CMT Digital First Performance of the Year.
She also received a nomination for Emerging Artist of the Year at the Americana Music Honors and Awards, a testament to her immense potential in the music industry.
16. Aaron Neville
Next, we have Aaron Neville, a name that resonates with soulful melodies and heartfelt lyrics. Hailing from New Orleans, Neville tasted his first success in 1966 with the hit single “Tell It Like It Is,” which topped the R&B charts.
Blending country, R&B, and pop, he captivated fans with his distinctive vocal abilities, capable of reaching high falsettos with an ease that few artists possess. Other popular songs of his include “The Grand Tour,” “Don’t Know Much” and “For the Good Times.”
Throughout his career, Neville has collaborated with several notable artists and groups; most significant is with his brothers Art, Charles, and Cyril, with whom he formed the Neville Brothers band. Their fusion of various musical styles created a unique sound that garnered them widespread acclaim.
17. Trini Triggs
Growing up in the heart of Cajun Country, Trini Triggs was surrounded by traditional country and Western swing music, an influence that would shape his signature style and sound — a blend of traditional country with a touch of modern flair.
But before he made waves in the music industry, Triggs worked various jobs, from oil field worker to radio DJ. However, it was always music that held his heart.
His passion and talent did not go unnoticed, and in 1998, he released his self-titled debut album. Some of his popular songs include “Horse to Mexico,” “Straight Tequila,” and “The Wreckin’ Crew.”
While Triggs may not have had the mainstream success of some of his contemporaries, his music encapsulates the spirit of the genre. His works continue to be appreciated by those who value the traditional roots of country music.
18. O. B. McClinton
One of the groundbreaking figures in the realm of country music is O. B. McClinton. Hailing from Senatobia, Mississippi, his career took off as a songwriter for 1960s Memphis soul labels.
He soon emerged as a successful black country singer, earning him the affectionate nickname Chocolate Cowboy. His breakthrough hit, “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You,” showcased his talent for translating life experiences into captivating song narratives.
McClinton’s success in the predominantly white genre of country music was groundbreaking at the time and opened doors for future black artists in the genre. His influence can be seen in the works of many contemporary artists who seamlessly blend elements of soul, blues, and country.
19. Stoney Edwards
We have another trailblazer in country music: Stoney Edwards. Born in 1929 in Oklahoma, this artist went on to become one of the prominent African American country singers of the 1970s.
However, Edwards’s journey to stardom was far from straightforward. Before he found his calling in music, he worked various jobs, including picking cotton and driving trucks.
Edwards’s big break came in 1970 when he was signed by Capitol Records. His debut single, “A Two Dollar Toy,” caught the attention of country music lovers. The song reached the top 20 on the Billboard Country chart, making him one of the first African American artists to achieve such a feat.
Despite the racial barriers of the time, Edwards carved out a successful career in the predominantly white genre of country music. His success opened doors for future black artists in the genre.
Born Yolanda Quartey in Bristol, England, Yola is a singer-songwriter and musician who has made significant waves in the country music scene. Despite being an ocean away from the genre’s American roots, her passion for country music is evident in her works.
Her breakthrough came with her debut studio album, Walk Through Fire, in 2019. Topping both UK Americana and UK Country charts, the album was a testament to Yola’s unique blend of vintage country-soul, R&B, and classy pop arrangements.
But Yola is more than just a country singer. Her music transcends genres, earning her the title of Musically Genre Fluid by her fans and critics alike. Her work has garnered multiple Grammy and NAACP nominations, and she’s also an AMA winner, proving her impact goes beyond the country music scene.
21. Tiera Kennedy
Known simply as Tiera in the music industry, Tiera Kennedy is a rising star in the world of country music. The Birmingham, Alabama, singer initially honed her skills singing in church choirs before deciding to pursue music as a career.
Her big break came when she was featured on the television show Real Country, where she impressed both the judges and the audience with her soulful voice and authentic country sound.
One of Tiera’s most notable releases is her self-titled EP. Standout tracks such as “Found It In You” and “Shut It Down” highlight her powerful vocals.
Despite her relatively recent entry into the music industry, Tiera has already made a significant impact, and she is quickly establishing herself as one to watch in the country music scene.
22. Wendy Moten
Born in the heart of Memphis in 1964, Wendy Moten was destined to become a voice to be reckoned with. Her breakthrough moment came with the release of her top-10 1994 single “Come In Out of the Rain.” She went on to tour with Julio Iglesias for about 15 years.
Performing in four languages, Wendy wowed audiences across the globe. Despite her international success, Wendy was pulled toward the heartland of country music, Nashville.
Here, she embraced country tunes and began to carve out a niche for herself in the Nashville scene. Her performances at the Grand Ole Opry were met with standing ovations and critical acclaim.
In recent years, Wendy has continued to shine. She was a finalist on Season 21 of The Voice, and her ability to adapt her style to suit a song’s mood has earned her a Grammy nomination (for “Whatever You Imagine”) and a vast collection of professional credits.
Wrapping Up Our List Of Popular Black Country Music Artists
Across several decades of modern music, a genre that has been almost entirely white is now seeing a demographic shift. With the emergence of various minority faces and voices, the future of country music promises to be strong.
We can thank these performers who laid the groundwork for a less homogenous country music culture, as Southern sounds continue to thrill and inspire across state lines and racial barriers.
Did we miss some of your favorites? Let us know and we’d be glad to add them in!