6 Must-Hear Songs from Black Women of Country

Beyoncé’s eighth album Cowboy Carter ambitiously celebrates country music while challenging the industry’s gatekeepers.

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Though white artists have dominated country music, the genre has a long history of Black musicians who pioneered it. Cowboy Carter exposes some of this history by including groundbreaking artists like Linda Martell and shining a spotlight on up-and-coming stars like Brittney Spencer.

Still, Beyoncé’s album isn’t a typical country album. It’s part of a trilogy of releases examining her place in Black history. But as Rolling Stone wrote, it’s also “a love letter to her Southern roots.”

Cowboy Carter is a sprawling album that is both a significant pop event and a historical playlist. Inspired by Beyoncé’s second act, here are six must-hear songs from Black women of country music. However, this list is nowhere near complete, and it’s intended as an introductory sample of Black women in country music.

“Wilson Rag” by Elizabeth Cotten

Born in 1893, Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten pioneered a country picking style called “Cotten picking.” Her famous alternating bass pattern permeates multiple genres of music. She had quit playing guitar for decades before picking it up again in her 60s. While working as a maid for the Seeger family, Mike Seeger recorded Cotten on a tape machine, and the recordings appeared on her album Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar on Folkways Records, which influenced the 1960s folk revival. “Wilson Rag” features Cotten’s signature guitar style.

“Mountain Banjo” by Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens co-founded the old-time music group Carolina Chocolate Drops before pursuing a solo career. She also formed The New Basement Tapes with Jim James, Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, and Taylor Goldsmith to record songs based on uncovered lyrics written by Bob Dylan. But Giddens has also dedicated time to reclaiming the Black legacy of the banjo and the Black roots of country music. Furthermore, “Mountain Banjo” connects the African diaspora to “hillbilly” music, which Giddens also threads on Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ’Em.”

“Bigger than the Song” by Brittney Spencer

Brittney Spencer appears on Beyoncé’s cover of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” with Reyna Roberts, Tanner Adell, and Tiera Kennedy. However, the country singer also released her long-awaited debut album My Stupid Life in 2024. Spencer worked as a vocal coach and background singer before gaining attention online, and in 2021 performed “Love My Hair” with Mickey Guyton and Madeline Edwards at the Grammys. “Bigger than the Song” traces legendary voices and how songs soundtrack life.

Makes you wanna be fancy like Reba, a queen like Aretha
In love like Johnny and June
Get mad like Alanis, scream like Janet
Do it all like Dolly would do
Yeah, it’s more than a three-minute listen when the radio’s on
It’s bigger than the song

“Bayou Song” by Tina Turner

Tina Turns the Country On! is Turner’s debut solo album. Ike Turner thought the album would expose her to a broader audience, and she covered country and folk songs written by Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, and James Taylor. P.J. Morse wrote the swampy “Bayou Song” for Turner, and legends like guitarist James Burton and pianist Glen Hardin back her twangy album.

I’ve been out working in the long, cold night
I’m too tired to sleep, too hungry to fight
Working for the man as hard as I can
Trying to make a living in this bayou land

“Black Like Me” by Mickey Guyton

Mickey Guyton released “Black Like Me” during the protests following George Floyd’s murder in 2020. In her soaring ballad, Guyton challenges the default patriotism sung by white country artists. She became the first Black woman to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Country Solo Performance. Guyton’s voice soars when she sings, And if you think we live in the land of the free / Then you should try to be Black like me.

Little kid in a small town
I did my best just to fit in
Broke my heart on the playground
When they said I was different

“Color Him Father” by Linda Martell

“Color Him Father” was initially recorded by the Washington, D.C., funk and soul group The Winstons. Released in 1969, their debut single was a Top-10 hit. Martell released the song the following year, and her version was one of three charting singles from her album Color Me Country. Martell broke ground as the first commercially successful Black female country artist and the first to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.

I think I’ll color him father
I think I’ll color him love
I’m gonna color him father
I think I’ll color him love

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Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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