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Black Music Matters Festival gives Black country music artists their due

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Black Music Matters Festival gives Black country music artists their due
Rissi Palmer kicked off the Black Music Matters Festival. COURTESY PHOTO

Country Standard Time is hosting the “Black Music Matters Festival” Aug. 2–6 on Facebook Live. The festival is a celebration of Black artists in the country and Americana genres, music categories that promote artists of color far less frequently than white artists.

Eight artists from around the country will perform new music and greatest hits during the five-day event. The festival is free to attend, but audience members are encouraged to make a donation to the Equal Justice Initiative while enjoying the show. Among other projects, the Equal Justice Initiative provides research and recommendations to assist advocates and policymakers in developing criminal justice reform.

The Festival kicked off Sunday, Aug. 2 with a stirring performance by Rissi Palmer, a versatile performer based in North Carolina who moves smoothly from the beats of R&B to the rhythms of country.

“Overall, I think visibility and representation are two of the most important aspects of the festival,” says Palmer. “I was also drawn to the fact that I liked the charitable aspect of the show. It was kind of a no-brainer.”

Palmer performed music from her first two adult albums, which veered more towards the country genre, as well as her newest album Revival, which debuted in October 2019 and incorporates more soul into the sound. That was also Palmer’s first experience producing her own album, giving her total artistic control over the sonic experience.

On Tuesday, Aug. 4 at 8 p.m., Greater Boston’s own Barrence Whitfield will bring his signature sound to the Black Music Matters virtual stage. Whitfield also blends country with other styles, including blues, soul and jazz, all genres with Black roots. History is important to Whitfield, and he says he hopes the concert will bring attention to the overlooked influence Black artists have had in the country genre. He mentions artists like Stoney Edwards, DeFord Bailey and Charlie Pride, all talented, active country musicians that have been overlooked in the genre’s history.

“If it wasn’t for gospel, blues, jazz … there would be no Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones,” says Whitfield. “The history of country music goes farther, especially when you’re dealing with Black artists.”

Though the Festival’s artists lament not being able to gather in person in Boston for the show, they hope it brings some mental and emotional relief to the online viewers, as well as a bit of an education.

“I think a lot of people need escape right now. I know I do,” says Palmer. “Sometimes it’s nice to slip into a new album or a live performance and just not think about some of the stuff that’s going on. And it’s a good time. You get to listen to people for free and donate if you want to – you can’t lose.”

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