(Editor’s Note: Find all of WXPN’s Artist to Watch Black Opry Residency podcast episodes on their website.)
Founded just two years ago, the Black Opry has a simple, but deceptively-difficult mission.
Simple in that it seems straightforward enough: To challenge the idea Black voices are only under represented in roots music because there’s little interest or talent in the black community.
But deceptive, in how hard that myth is to refute.
The truth is that Black and Brown voices have always (and continue to) contribute mighty to the pantheon of Americana music, but they are often overlooked by the very media channels needed to bring about a change.
That’s where a new a new podcast from WXPN comes in.
Using the Philadelphia-based public radio station’s new Artist to Watch podcast to highlight a Black Opry Residency in the City of Brotherly Love, both organizations have teamed up to celebrate and elevate current Black artists, and to educate roots music fans on what they’ve been missing.
Over five weeks, host John Morrison seeks to introduce a new generation of talent to the broader listening public, telling some truly remarkable stories in the process. And, according to Black Opry founder and co-director, Holly G, it was just the type of partnership that could create a lasting trajectory change.
“Working with WXPN was great because they really let us take the lead on what the needs were for our community,” she says.
As a journalist/artist manager and self-identified “country music disruptor,” Holly G knows those needs better than just about anyone. She’s been shining a light on this community for years, which the podcast does a good job of explaining.
Holly G founded Black Opry as a blog and artist directory back in 2021, recognizing a blind spot in the genre and working to profile Black artists in the roots space. But it quickly became something more, and has now grown into a web of inter-connected talent and supporters which even includes a nationwide touring production – the Black Opry Revue. The WXPN show helps tell that story in a broad sense, but also zooms in to introduce a handful of artists individually.
In a five part series, each weekly episode features a different Black artist or act, taking listeners on a “deep and personal dive into the real-life struggles of emerging performers.” Along the way, each gets the chance to tell their story and let listeners see the unique contours of their world – namely, trying build careers from the ground up, in a genre that has all but said they don’t exist.
It’s part of a new drive WXPN has to help develop (and actually support) talent in the pandemic’s wake, since it exposed how precarious an emerging artist’s life can be. According to Bruce Warren – Assistant GM for programming at WXPN and World Cafe’s Executive Producer – featuring Black Opry artists is a natural place to begin.
“WXPN has for a long time had a reputation as a tastemaker, and part of that has been its ability to identify and curate new and emerging artists from across the country and connect them to wider audiences,” he says in podcast’s first episode. “We wanted to give [artists] an amazing, immersive experience that will help change their careers, and at the same time showcase a deeper piece of who they are above and beyond the actual music they play to our audience.”
The Artist to Watch season profiling The Black Opry kicked off on June 8, highlighting Nashville’s Tylar Bryant. Other episodes introduce Denitia and The Kentucky Gentleman (both also out of Nashville), plus Boston’s Grace Givertz and hometown Philly talent, Samantha Rise.
As part of the show, each artist sat for an extensive interview, and also took took part in a week-long creative residency in Philadelphia, writing songs, meeting with mentors and ultimately performing their work at a live showcase.
It’s a remarkably detailed and enlightening podcast, giving some talented and deserving artists a carer boost while also expelling an outdated premise about country music and the black community. New episodes continue to air weekly on Thursday nights, and although it’s just one more step in tackling a big and complex problem, Holly G says every little bit counts.
“It was great feeling empowered to provide the artists involved with resources specifically catered to them,” she says. “Our knowledge and understanding of our community paired with the extensive industry knowledge that WXPN provided enabled us all to have a great experience that was meaningful and substantial to everyone involved.”
Photo Credit: Rah Foard