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Where to Hear the Diversity of Country Music

Online radio stations and playlists showcase Black, Latino and LGBTQ artists

spinner image country music artists ty herndon rissi palmer and breland
(Left to right) Ty Herndon, Rissi Palmer and Breland
Debra L Rothenberg/Getty Images; Jason Kempin/Getty Images; Steve Jennings/Getty Images

This story is part of a series on country music, a special AARP salute to America.

For decades, the country music industry has relied on radio airplay as a key means of promoting songs and artists. One consequence is that radio “has a narrowly defined view of what country music actually is,” says Dayton Duncan, the writer of Ken Burns’ 2019 PBS docuseries Country Music.

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But in the internet age, curious listeners have more opportunities to listen to a broader range of country music. Online radio has especially been a boon for showcasing Black, Latino and LGBTQ country artists. Here are a few places to find those stations and shows:

“Color Me Country,” Apple Music Country Radio

Named for Linda Martell’s 1970 debut album, “Color Me Country” is the brainchild of African American singer Rissi Palmer. “I saw that in all the publications that Black people’s contributions to country music were reduced to five artists. It seemed extremely myopic. I knew that that wasn’t true.”

Palmer, whose 2007 single “Country Girl” made her the first African American woman to chart a country song since Dona Mason 20 years earlier, hosts the program and features Black, indigenous and Latino artists, many of whom thrive outside the mainstream.

One of her guests has been Martell herself, whose single “Color Him Father” rose to No. 22 in 1969 and still remains the highest-charting single by a Black woman in country music history. But perhaps that statistic will soon be updated. “I think that things are changing in part because fans and artists are pushing the envelope,” Palmer says. “We’ve always been here. It’s just now easier to find us.”

“Black Opry”

In April 2021, Holly G., a Virginia flight attendant and writer who doesn’t use her last name in the media, established “Black Opry” from her bedroom. Not only were there few artists of color on country radio — only 1.5 percent, according to a study last year — but only a scant number of Black songwriters or record executives. Her website spawned a concert series, Black Opry Revue, and brings performers and fans together as a community, where newer artists such as Brittney Spencer, Breland and Jett Holden find room next to more mainstream names such as Darius Rucker and Jimmie Allen.

“Proud Radio,” Apple Music Country Radio

Hunter Kelly interviews queer country artists and allies and plays their songs for this monthly show. The response to the two-year-old program has been gratifying: “I get messages saying, ‘I didn’t think that there was a place for me in this format because I am trans.’ The conversation of trans artists, which we play a lot on the show, is still very much new territory.”

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“LGBTQIA+ Country Playlist,” NPR Music

This online playlist features both familiar names and those just bubbling under the surface, including Ty Herndon and Amythyst Kiah.

Country Latino,” Spotify playlist

While country music has long nodded to Hispanic culture (think Marty Robbins’ “El Paso”), actual Latinos singing in the genre have largely been missing on the national stage. The husband-and-wife team of Kat & Alex hopes to change that. (She is a first-generation American from a Cuban family, and Alex is of Puerto Rican descent.) They head up this evolving Spotify playlist that features dozens of songs.

For Love & Country, Amazon Prime Video

This documentary, released in April, examines country music through the experiences of Black artists, including Allen, Mickey Guyton, Blanco Brown and Allison Russell.

Alanna Nash is a contributing writer who covers celebrity and entertainment. She has written 10 books, including several on Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton. She received a Country Music Association Media Achievement Award and a Charlie Lamb Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism.

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