October Artist of the Month, Brittney Spencer, is crafting her own unique place in the predominantly white and historically conservative world of country music. Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, her early experiences in gospel music and church choirs laid the foundation for her soul-stirring, emotive performances. Who is Brittney Spencer? And how did she get on so many country music mega stars’ radar?
Country singers and audiences have long been predominantly white. Think Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash. Then came Darius Rucker, and for at least 20 years, he was among the few non-white artists. According to a SongData study, 2.3% of ACM Awards and 1.6% of CMA Awards nominees between 2000 and 2019 were people of color.
The year 2020 was a turning point. When many events were halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CMA Awards continued. In a heartfelt speech Maren Morris, the Female Vocalist of the Year, recognized and thanked many Black female country singers. Among the names she mentioned this month’s Artist of the Month, Brittney Spencer.
Who is Brittney Spencer? And how did she get on so many country music mega stars’ radar?
Spencer is anything but conventional. Rather than a homegrown country girl, Spencer is from the east coast, where she sang in her church choir and attended a performing arts high school. In an interview with Country Swag, she said music defined her childhood. The 35-year-old Baltimore native credits her appreciation for different musical genres to her family. “My dad had a quartet band, my aunt sings, my late uncle sang. Everyone in my family sings, but no one made a career out of it,” Spencer said, in an interview with Baltimore Magazine. Her father always surrounded her with the music of R&B, Pop and Hip-hop as well as being open to new genres as well. As it was his passion then, it is a passion he passed on to her.
She gained a love for country music after tuning into an alternative rock radio station on her morning commute to school. The station would play different country artists, many of which that were unknown to her, but it was female country artists like Reba, The Chicks, and Taylor Swift who inspired her to officially pursue a music career in this genre. Soon after, she would make moves to become the artist she is today.
Out on the Road
In 2013, Spencer moved to Nashville, the epicenter for country music, and the area that most reflected the genre’s sound and culture. While in the city, she was a backup singer to many country artists, such as Carrie Underwood. She shared stages with her inspiration Reba, The Highwomen, and Maren Morris, among others.
During this time, she began to hone her songwriting skills. She developed her own country sound while staying true to herself, which included writing about different experiences in her life as well as the hardships of being a Black female artist in the industry. These moves prepared her for a remarkable solo career. However, the road to releasing her own music was difficult. In an interview with Baltimore Magazine, she explained that when she first arrived in Nashville she did not know anyone. She took up several jobs to support herself. Spencer taught herself how to play the guitar and, in traditional Nashville fashion, she would busk downtown on late nights.
A League of Her Own
In “The Sounds of Black Music: Black Artists in the Heart of Country Music,” librarian A. J. Muhammad traces the origins of country music to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. He wrote that the enslaved people brought with them African instruments such as the kora, which was later evolved into the banjo. The music produced from the instruments was referred to as hillbilly music and was often used in minstrel shows, and was later dubbed "country music".
As time progressed, Black artists were pushed out while white artists were promoted and eventually credited as the owners of the genre. Mickey Guyton’s success is a testament to the shift happening within the industry. She broke many barriers within the industry, proving her place despite the racism and sexism aimed at her. These struggles no different than what Spencer has confronted on her journey through the country music world. In response the two along with Madeline Edwards performed “Love My Hair,” an ode to the beauty of Black women’s hair, at the 2021 CMA Awards.
In 2019, Spencer released her first single “Mothers and Shepherds” in collaboration with the group Common Hymnal. However, it was the 2020 release of her EP titled Compassion that caught the attention of her industry peers. Some of the EP’s major themes revolve around empathy, activism, community and, as the title suggests—compassion. This newfound success prompted a three month headline tour and an appearance in Amazon Prime’s For Love and Country, a documentary about Black country music performers.
From the Past and Present to the Future
Brittney has crafted her own lane in the country music scene by staying true to herself and allowing her imagination and beliefs to shine. She has achieved so much in her early career and will leave behind a lasting impact.
You can pre save her debut album My Stupid Life, set to release in January 2024.
SongData, AcademyofCountryMusic, CMAAwards, Spotify, Spotify, MagnetSchoolsofAmerica, Spotify, CountrySwag, Baltimore, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Baltimore, NewYorkPublicLibrary, NewYorkPublicLibrary, EncyclopediaBritannica, Nature.com, EncyclopediaBritannica, Spotify, Spotify, Youtube, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, IMDb, BrittneySpencer.com
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