Rissi Palmer rose to fame in 2007 with her debut single ‘Country Girl’. The song charted on the country charts making her the first African-American woman to chart a country song since Dona Mason in 1987. In recent years, following her own experiences getting her voice heard in the music industry, Palmer launched a show which is now broadcast on Apple Music called ‘Color Me Country’ and will be bringing the show to The Long Road festival later this summer! Palmer was excited to introduce me to the artists she is bringing over with her but we began our chat from the story behind that debut single.
“When we sat down and wrote it, we knew that it had the potential to be a single. I wanted to make something anthemic for people like me, to say something for the people that don’t always feel represented, don’t necessarily feel catered to, so that was what that song was for. If it never made it onto radio, and it just touched people, and they were just like, that’s my song, then I would have felt really good about it either way. But it just so happened that, people liked it,” she says with a smile spreading across her face.
Following a series of ups and down’s for Palmer, including parting ways with her record label and self funding an EP, in 2019 she released ‘Revival’ – her most personal collection of songs to date. “It’s hard for me not to talk about what’s really going on in my life, because those are the things that I find the easiest to write about, I find it easier to tell personal stories to write the truth about what I’m feeling. It’s cathartic in a lot of ways,” Palmer shares. “There are certain songs, that while I love them, it’s hard to get through them. Like the song that comes to mind is, ‘You Were Here’ from ‘Revival’. I wrote that about a miscarriage that I experienced in 2018, that was hard and it still is hard. I find that once I get towards the end of that song, I get choked up. I don’t play it as much as I play some of my other songs, but it still needed to be written.”
Palmer feels a duty to use her gift in that way, “I feel like that’s what my job is for. As an artist, you’re really very fortunate to be given a platform and to be given an opportunity to speak to a vast array of people. I can’t speak for every artist, but I feel like for me, it’s my job, to be honest, because I know, I’m not the only person that thinks something or that has experienced something. I want to make sure that other people know that they’re not alone.”
That same desire to help those around her, those striving to achieve the same dream, has lead Palmer to set up the show, now picked up by Apple Music called ‘Color Me Country’. “Color Me Country has been in my head, or at least in the atmosphere around me for a few years. One of my best friend’s Shelly Warren had been telling me for years, that I should do a podcast or something about my feelings on music and artists. One, I didn’t think anybody would want to hear any thing like that from me. And then number two, I didn’t think I had time. Fast forward to 2020, it was February and I had just done an interview with Andrea Williams, for a magazine with Mickey Guyton, about Linda Martell and the 50th anniversary of Color Me Country. And I remember doing that interview and thinking, what a great name for a show.”
It was perfect timing for Palmer and the industry as controversies in country music were raising questions and Palmer began to have more time on her hands to dissect and answer them. “Around this time, Little Nas X had just had success with ‘Old Town Road’. Then there was the controversy with Billboard, and everybody wanted to write a think piece and I just started noticing that the contributions of black people to country music were relegated to just five artists. The full story wasn’t being told. So March 2020 we were all in lockdown because of the pandemic, I suddenly had a whole bunch of time on my hands. I also knew that everybody that I would want to talk to for the show was going to be at home, because their shows were cancelled too. So that’s when it started to take shape. So it started out, as me wanting to document these people’s existence, and their stories. By June of 2020, I had already done 24 interviews. My fellow host and friend, Kelly McCartney interviewed me for their radio show and Kelly introduced me to Apple Music.” The rest was history.
Now, as Palmer prepares for The Long Road Festival where she will have her own ‘Color Me Country’ curated line-up on the Front Porch stage, she raves about the artists she has picked to play alongside her and of the opportunity to do something as ground breaking as this. “It’s the first stage of its kind to ever happen, that’s pretty huge. I’m bringing six acts that I feel are right on the verge. Like they’re, they’re right at that pivotal moment. Each one of these acts brings something unique and interesting and different to country music. I’ve also made a very conscious decision to bring women because women are so underrepresented in country music and Americana music and not only that, like women of color, especially.”
Palmer has always wanted to come and perform in the UK and is excited to share that experience with her friends and to give them that platform. “I’m a fan of each and every one of them, not only do I like them as people, but I’m fans of their music and what they do. I just think that they bring so much value to any situation that they’re a part of. On top of that, I’m bringing my band, my personal touring band, all black men. I’m bringing my production staff from Apple, so we’re bringing a whole crew over there!”
Now Palmer has taken her show and the impact it can have on people’s lives to another level as she has set up a fund for artists of color, to help them break out into the roots genres. “About six months in Kelly McCartney approached me, Kelly already has a fund called the rainy day fund, which is for LGBTQ+, and marginalised artists in roots music, like Americana music. They asked me if I would be interested in partnering and creating a fund and offshoot for Color Me Country that is just focused on artists of color that are pursuing careers in country and Americana. We started small, we just launched in December of 2020. And by April of 2021, we had already raised $30,000. I believe we have granted over 60 artists between $500 to $1,500. Finances make a difference in a lot of ways. I just wanted to make sure that $500 or $1,000, wouldn’t keep someone from continuing to pursue their dream and taking that next step, because we’re always one step away from the big break, or, a pivotal moment. I didn’t want anyone to fall short of that, because they didn’t have the funds.”
Palmer has been instrumental in getting the voices of artists of color heard within country music, of shining a light on their importance and impact over the years within the genre that we love and of educating fans and industry people with her show. I’m so excited to hear some of the artists that she has introduced me to, in a live setting later this year!