After years of hustle, Mickey Guyton finally steps into the spotlight during this Sunday’s Grammys

Guyton is the first Black solo female artist nominated for a Grammy in a country music category

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7 years after her debut EP, country singer/songwriter Mickey Guyton is finally being recognized on “music’s greatest night” after receiving her first nomination. This nomination marks the first time in history that a Black solo female artist is nominated for a Grammy in a country music category.

Despite plenty of research to back-up that Black people are all over country music (down to chord structure), popular country music is still almost always associated with whiteness. It’s what made the “Old Town Road” Billboard controversy especially frustrating. The scandal sparked an intense debate last year about what “country music” really means, and who it’s made for. Enter Mickey Guyton — a Black Country artist with a rich and years-long discography.

55th Academy Of Country Music Awards - Show
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 16: (L-R) Keith Urban and Mickey Guyton perform onstage during the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards at the Grand Ole Opry on September 16, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. The ACM Awards airs on September 16, 2020 with some live and some prerecorded segments. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for ACM)

Read More: Country music star Maren Morris honors Black women who pioneered genre at CMAs

“Country music is a way of life,” Guyton told the New York Times last month. She explained, “It’s not just about whether you know a song. I grew up in the country, on gravel roads. But because I was Black, I wasn’t enough. This was 2010.” Guyton is referring to her first meeting with a record label, Warner, who she says played country songs “they didn’t think” she would know as a way to test her. Texas-born, Guyton grew up listening to Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and more, with her grandma.

Guyton eventually broke into country music herself, signing with Capitol in 2011…yes, ten years ago. So why ten years later, is Guyton finally receiving recognition from the Grammys and the very genre she loves and has worked in for a decade? Guyton shared some insight in her recent NYT interview, saying “These white men at these record labels, they’re not going to do it for us. These white men at these radio stations, they’re not going to do it for us. But Black women will do it for each other, and that is literally the only way.”  While Guyton’s debut single, “Better Than You Left Me,” received some industry recognition and eventually earned her an Academy of Country Music award nomination for New Female Vocalist, it didn’t propel Guyton into superstardom.

45th Anniversary Gracie Awards
VARIOUS CITIES – SEPTEMBER 10: (L-R) In this screengrab, Jonathan Sosin and Mickey Guyton perform during the 45th Anniversary Gracie Awards on September 10, 2020. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for Women in Media Foundation)

“I had heard so many no’s. I’d heard people say, ‘Oh, I don’t know if you can do that.’ ‘You can’t sing that.’ ‘That’s a little too pop,’” Guyton told NBC News last summer. “Meanwhile, I’m seeing all these dudes with trap beats and R&B melodies in their songs, making all this money and selling out tours, but I’m not allowed to do that.”

Many white artists in country are praised for the coveted “country-pop crossover,” with the fusion of genres often being celebrated. But for Guyton and Black Country artists in general, there seems to be an invisible game they must play in order to “sell.”

Then came “Black Like Me”, Guyton’s now Grammy-nominated single released last summer, during our country’s racial reckoning and Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd. Before this year, Guyton had been made to feel afraid to speak out and sing about her Black experience, according to NBC News. “Everybody’s like, ‘Look, everybody knows that you’re Black, so we don’t really have to bring attention to it. So let’s just focus on the fact that you are a really great vocalist and we don’t really need to talk about the fact that you’re Black, since it’s already a known thing. And that made me scared to talk about being Black and dealing with discrimination.”

While the release of the song came while Guyton was processing the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Guyton had been sitting on “Black Like Me” for some time, after being told people needed to “sit with it” when first listening.

“Singing on a major tour, singing in front of Confederate flags, being called the N-word after a show by country music fans,” is what inspired her to write the song, according to Billboard. The song is a piercing and gorgeous ballad that tells the listener, “If you think we live in the land of the free, you should try to be Black like me.” In a genre that often celebrates American pride and “freedom,” Guyton’s song speaks volumes to the very culture that has at many times shut her, a Black American, out.

Read More: Are Country Music Awards voters shunning ‘Old Town Road’ nominations?

Speaking with Billboard ahead of the Grammys, Guyton revealed her mission goes far beyond just getting Black Country artists on country radio. She explained, “I realized I’m not going to get on any kind of country station. And I’m certainly not going to do that by falling in line and shutting up and singing. I’ve made peace with that. I may not ever have some massive career, but I’m going to use the influence I have to open those doors for the future generation.”

Not only is she nominated, but Guyton is set to perform at the 63rd Grammy Awards. The ceremony will air this Sunday, March 14 2021 on CBS.

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