Mickey Guyton Is Writing Beyond the Obvious

“I’ve had comments even this year by my peers,” Mickey Guyton marvels with a small laugh. “A girl in a dressing room leaned over and said, ‘Thank God I don’t have your hair …’”

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Her voice trails off. The obvious needn’t be stated. While the Crawford, Texas-born power singer and songwriter struck a chord on Black Out Tuesday with her quietly revelatory “Black Like Me,” Guyton’s been pressing into the issues since she dropped the girl solidarity pledge “Sister” in 2019 and brought the Ryman to its feet during her label’s massive Country Radio Seminar showcase with the questioning glass ceiling / #metoo rebuke “What Are You Going To Tell Her?” in March.

Guyton didn’t set out to preach or crusade. Living down a gravel road near the Bush compound, she fell in love with country music thanks to her grandmother. “She had her ‘Roots’ videos and her ‘Kenny & Dolly’ videos hanging on the back of her door,” Guyton remembers. Equally powerful is the image of some ugly quilts her mother kept, the embodiment of Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” in their home. “Her mom’s family had 12 kids, so she made their blankets out of scraps from their clothes.”

Ten years into a career launched with an a cappella audition – singing a Patty Loveless song – in UMG Nashville Chairman Mike Dungan’s office, Guyton is only incrementally closer to her dream. Polite to a fault, empowering to others, recognizing the sad reality of a woman’s fate in country music intersected the truth of who she is.

“I’ve never thought, ‘Oh, I’m Black, so people won’t think I’m authentic,’” she begins, unpacking the logjam. “I wrote all these songs that were overly-scrutinized, not to be racist or disparaging, but because they wanted to get it right. I did everything they wanted and lost so much of myself, I got lost completely and confused.

“Not only is it hard being a Black woman, it’s hard being a white woman. So many men think they know what women want, how they feel. I remember back in the ’90s when there were so many strong women’s voices — and I can’t believe we have anything less to say.”

There’s no rancor. She tells the story of the radio guy telling her to write some fluffy, happy songs so he can play her records. You can hear the eye roll, the facepalm down the phone line, but no snark. 

She’s here to make music, not judge.

“As a Black woman who knows how it feels like to fit in — in a mostly white school my Dad worked two jobs to pay for, because it was known they didn’t like Black kids in the public school and our church, where I didn’t talk like everyone else, because of where I went to school — I literally hit rock bottom. I was so broken, I couldn’t write b.s. that didn’t mean anything to me anymore.”

A conversation with her husband landed like a rock through the window. Challenging her to lean into her differences, he offered, “You’re running away from everything that makes you different, that makes you you. Your story is your difference — and that makes you stand out.”

Guyton took it to heart. Writing with more women and seeking her own creative circle — including producer Karen Kosowski — she pulled things in, stripped back the layers of gloss and created songs that not only felt true, but left room to evoke the emotions underscoring the songs.

“It’s not brave at all,” she says of the tact to a narrative that impales the “hottie in a truck with her mouth shut” trope. “I’m just trying to do the right thing. When you see other women, and you know the mountains we’re all climbing without any gear, a map or real help, it’s important to write these things. Everybody’s thinking it. Everybody’s feeling it. When the trolls come for me, it tells me these things need to be said. 

“I realize the power in truth and love, the power in your voice. It’s why Dolly and Johnny Cash mattered so much to the people.”

And Guyton’s power isn’t just social issues. The essence of classic Texas beauty, she’s a vector of glam and real. Formidable onstage, she opened a Brad Paisley tour — and returned to sing “Whiskey Lullaby” each night — to occasional Confederate flags, but also resounding applause. It’s why she called her just-released EP Bridges. The collection shines light to create commonality among divergent groups. Between “Heaven Here On Earth” and the title track, Guyton’s power-belting plus slightly-less-slick country uses dynamics to create a place to come together. 

Not just about her, it’s about all the girls she might inspire.

“I’ll be that person,” Guyton offers. “Whatever you need, I’ll be there. We have to help each other, we have to break ground and reach back. Whoever you are, whatever you need. Ask me. Women of color, if it’s a hair stylist, a make-up artist, a photographer who understands the realities of who we are, just reach out.”

Photo Credit: Mathieu Bitton

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