PLAYLIST: Yola Is a Little Bit Country, and a Little Bit Western

The Bristol-born artist proves once again that country music is as black as it is white.

The unexpected cultural explosion that is Lil Nas X and “Old Town Road” is shining a light on the long-ignored connection between black artists and country music. As with rock and roll, the art form has long been appropriated to reflect a very singular point of view. But artists like Yola are here to help get the balance right.

“The legacy of black folk, country, and roots music is one littered with success and aplomb—but its notoriety is somewhat understated, almost as if we need constant reminding,” stresses the British singer-songwriter born Yolanda Quartey in Bristol, England, a city best known for seminal trip-hop acts like Massive Attack and Portishead.

“Ray Charles’ arguably most successful album was a country record, and Charley Pride, for example, had forty number one singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart between 1966 and 1987, put out forty-seven studio albums, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2000,” the singer continues. “Yet I feel that the information is still somewhat new to me, as if his legendary status is somehow less talked about. So here is my historical celebration of country, folk, and roots from people of color. Let’s allow this rich history to inspire future generations of musicians to be free to explore all of their roots.”

Yola backs up her words with a stunning Dan Auerbach–produced debut album, Walk Through Fire, released earlier this year. She’s set to join fellow genre-defying country phenom Kacey Musgraves for North American tour dates this September. Get to know the music behind the artist with her Spotify playlist curated exclusively for FLOOD below.

Walk Through Fire is out now on Nonesuch Records. You can order it here.

The Pointer Sisters, “Fairytale”

People may not associate the Oakland, CA, group with country music, but The Pointer Sisters had a hit with this fantastic country song.

Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine”

The ’60s and ’70s were littered with people of color making country- and folk-inspired music.

Tina Turner, “Help Me Make It (Through the Night)”

It’s very hard to find a lot of Tina’s country songs online, but it’s definitely worth looking out for a copy of her album, Tina Turns the Country On!, which features this wonderful track written by Kris Kristofferson.

Elizabeth Cotten, “Here Old Rattler Here”

You couldn’t get a better example of folk music from African-American culture than Elizabeth Cotten. Her folk and blues guitar playing was the tip-top of skill at the time, and she has paved the way for how we view delta blues and folk music throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and even into the 1970s.

Charley Pride, “It’s Gonna Take a Little Bit Longer”

Charley Pride had forty Number One hits on the Hot Country Billboard Chart from 1966 well into the mid-’80s. There’s more Charley Pride to come on this playlist!

Ray Charles, “I Love You So Much It Hurts”

Of course, Ray Charles’ most successful album was his country record, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.

The Staple Singers, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”

If you want to talk about the lasting legacy of country, soul, folk, and roots gospel, you can look no further than The Staple Singers.

Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car”

The folk legacy has lasted right through into the ’80s and ’90s, and Tracy Chapman is a wonderful example of the continuation of that legacy.

Charley Pride, “When the Trains Come In”

I had to choose two songs from Charley Pride. I don’t think you can be that prolific, that successful, and not appear twice on my playlist! I have chosen “When the Trains Come In” because it’s a stone cold classic country song full of longing.

Richie Havens, “Strawberry Fields Forever”

Richie Havens covered many great songs and is similar in that way to many of the other great ’60s artists like Joe Cocker, but he always chose songs that push the folk aesthetic.

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