Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

By Ron Wynn

NASHVILLE, TN — Frankie Staton, Rissi Palmer-Stypman and Miko Marks are three remarkable Black women who sought careers in country music in an era when it was viewed as the sole property of white men, and audiences were widely deemed at best unresponsive, and at worse openly hostile to Black country artists, especially women.

Over the next three weeks they will look back at both their careers and the past year in country, from both a personal perspective and general overview.

1. What initially got you interested in country music as opposed to any other music?

Frankie Staton

Frankie Staton: “I was never limited musically, and  adored many genres of music, including Bluegrass and Country. Loved the picking of Flatt and Scruggs. I was always aware of what was going on in Adult Contemporary, Rock, Pop, Gospel, Broadway and film scores. I just truly loved and identified with the stories in country songs.”

Rissi Palmer-Stypman: “My introduction to Country music was as a child, listening to my mom’s Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, and Kenny Rogers records. I fell in love with the songwriting and the instrumentation. I loved the simple but clever way everyday life was explained in the songs and wanted to express myself that way in my writing.” 

Miko Marks: “I initially got interested in country music (without knowing what it was) when I was living with my grandmother as a child and she would play her records and country music was a part of her collection.  In addition to gospel and R&B, there was Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Charley Pride and Kenny Rodgers.”

2. How much resistance did you encounter at the start of your career and how have things changed?

Frankie Staton: “I encountered a lot of resistance in 1981. Some people looked at me as crazy, some thought it was “cute,” and some looked at me curiously. But the true fans of country music got me.”

Rissi Palmer-Stypman

Rissi Palmer-Stypman: “The industry just seemed baffled by how to market “someone like me” (a real phrase used in a meeting) or very concerned with my “authenticity” (another actual word used). Everyone else was just really surprised that I liked country music and that I wanted to sing it.”

“I used to get asked to sing a lot on the spot when I would tell people that’s what I did. While the industry has publicly tried to be more diverse, a lot of the stories I’m hearing from behind the scenes show that things haven’t changed very much since I first arrived in 2000.. Artists are still being scrutinized based on subjective authenticity tests and lack of marketing ideas for people of color.”

Miko Marks

Miko Marks: “At the start of my career, I was hopeful as any other artist, singer, who wanted to pursue a career in music.  I did not know until after I recorded my first album, Freeway Bound, the road would be rough.  I did not know about the gatekeepers and lack of acceptance around a black woman pursuing country music.  I was accepted to a certain point but ignored for the real ascension I was seeking.”  

3. Has the White country audience become more accepting of Black country artists?

Frankie Station:“The white audience has finally seen Black Country Singers in a lot more numbers than before. We are VISIBLE. You can’t accept what is hidden from you.”

Rissi Palmer-Stypman: “That’s a multi-pronged answer. On one hand, I think audiences will accept anything that’s effectively marketed to them. People love a hit. Look at the success of Darius Rucker, Kane Brown, and Jimmie Allen. However, I think the country audience seems to want a specific type of Black artist…one that doesn’t discuss racial politics or social justice issues that don’t reflect positively on White people.”

Miko Marks: “I believe there has been a shift.  I see glimmers of hope.  With organizations such as The Black Opry, also MTheory’s collaboration with CMT, I was fortunate to become one of CMT’s Next Women of Country which gave me a boosted platform and when I tell you the audience loves the music, they DO.”

4. What has been the Black reaction you have encountered?

Frankie Staton: “Admiration, Curiosity, Pride. Most admit that they like country music, but never felt welcome in it because there was such a rare reflection of themselves.”

Rissi Palmer-Stypman: “The reaction I get from other Black people is a mixture of things: there’s disbelief, excitement, more questions, apprehension (because they mistakenly believe that Country music is White music), but overwhelmingly supportive.” 

Miko Marks: “The Black reaction has been one of pride and support.  We know the roots of country music are immersed in our sound and its foundation.  There is huge support around us reclaiming our roots.”

5. Do you also write songs and if you do what or who are your primary inspirations?

Frankie Staton: “Inspiration is everywhere, and yes I am a songwriter. You never know where it’s gonna come from, maybe your life, or someone else’s, or an event, or something you heard on TV or in a conversation. I really like writing songs of encouragement.”

Rissi Palmer-Stypman: “I do write songs and I find most of my inspiration in my everyday life. I write about my relationships, my children, my views of the world, my faith, etc. “

Miko Marks:“In my early days of writing for Freeway Bound and It Feels Good, I wrote in a youthful idealistic way about love and loss.  Fast forward to a more mature, experienced person in living my life, I write with purpose and with a message I want to leave in the world.  Social justice and spiritual connections have made their way into my present day.  I want to leave the listener contemplating what matters to them most.”