The Rise of African-American Country Singers on ‘The Voice’
These past few seasons, we have seen a new trend on The Voice. While country singers have long dominated the show, African-American country stars have been on the rise. Most notably, Kirk Jay finished in third place this past season. And if this trend continues, we could see a black country singer win the show before too long!
We’re going to take a closer look at the recent black country singers on The Voice and why their relevance is so important in today’s music scene.
History of Black Country Singers on Talent Shows
Now, the idea of African-American country singers on these shows isn’t exactly new. But it definitely isn’t common either! On season one of the new show Real Country, an all country singing competition, only three of the artists were African-American. Even in the country music scene as a whole, only two black artists have ever debuted a single at #1, Darius Rucker and Jimmie Allen. Kane Brown’s recent sophomore album debuted at #1 as well. But Jimmie and Kane are new to the country scene. And on the awards side, only two black country artists have ever won CMAs. First was Charley Pride, who won Entertainer of the Year in 1971 and Male Vocalist of the Year in 1971 and 1972. Then, Darius Rucker won CMA’s New Artist of the Year in 2009.
But there have been a few small success stories on these talent shows! The first of memory was Willie Jones, who competed on The X Factor USA in 2012. He made it all the way to the Top 16 under Demi Lovato’s mentorship. He competed in the Young Adults group and stood out for his low, twangy voice. Next, a year later, Milton Patton was on America’s Got Talent. Milton had a standout audition, singing “Whiskey Lullaby” and earning four “Yes” votes to go to Vegas. However, he was then eliminated without performing in the Vegas round.
Then came The Voice, a show that featured unexpected singers who auditioned while the coaches were blind to what they looked like. This seems like the perfect place for an unlikely country star to emerge! Though it was only recently that black country singers began to become a staple on the show. They have without a doubt made their presence known though! Here are the most notable African-American country contestants who appeared on The Voice.
Keisha Renee was the first black country artist to really make an impact on The Voice. She appeared on Season 13 of the show and joined Team Blake after all four chairs turned for her in the Blind Auditions. Keisha said that gospel music was her foundation, but she fell in love with country music when she moved to Houston after high school. She didn’t have many opportunities in country music though, since most people said she was better suited for pop or R&B music. Keisha even spent some time as a backup singer for Nicki Minaj! But she was on the show to prove that she could be a country star. And she did just that! Keisha made it to the Top 8.
Spensha was on Team Blake in Season 14. (Are you starting to see a trend here?) She grew up on military bases singing gospel music. After signing with Interscope records and gaining a love for country music, she and her mom moved back to Texas due to the pressure of the music industry. The timing wasn’t right for Spensha in her early teens. So she came on The Voice to try to make it again, this time in country music! Kelly and Blake turned for her Blind Audition of “Blackbird” by The Beatles. But from the Battles on, Spensha was all country, singing everything from Chris Stapleton to Little Big Town to Kacey Musgraves. She made her way into the Finale, finishing in fourth place.
Kirk Jay was on the most recent season of The Voice and was an early favorite to win it all! He grew up extremely poor in Alabama but he has always had a love for country music from being raised in the South. After turning four chairs in his Blind Audition, he brought it week after week. Kirk impressed the coaches and audience alike with his distinctly country tone and music choice. Jennifer Hudson even told Kirk he “made a true country fan out of me!” Kirk made it all the way to the Finale, where he somehow finished in third, despite many fans thinking he could win it all. He sang with Rascal Flatts in the Finale, the artist who sings the song he covered in his audition.
So from the progression, it’s looking like a black country artist could be in line to win any time now! But more than that, it is amazing that they have been represented more on The Voice than basically any other talent competition show ever. For country music, this diversity is much needed. Between artists like Kane Brown and Jimmie Allen, along with Kirk Jay, Spensha Baker, and Keisha Renee, the future of success for black country singers is looking bright. And there could be more to come! We’ll have to wait until next month to see what the talent on The Voice looks like for Season 16.