WXPN’s Black Opry Residency development program is directed at aiding Black Americana and country artists to create and build sustainable careers. And when the program hits World Café Live on March 24, it will be due to a year-long process with worthy, song-styling candidates.
Beyond its up-and-coming songwriting-singers such as The Kentucky Gentleman, Denitia, Tylar Bryant (all from Nashville), Grace Givertz (Boston) and Philly’s own Samantha Rise, the mentoring heart and soul of WXPN’s Black Opry Residency Sessions is Black Opry organizer Frankie Staton, a dynamic performer and writer who, after decades in the music biz, made her Grand Ole Opry debut in February 2023.
Staton is responsible for launching the first country music showcase for Black artists at Nashville’s Bluebird Café in 1997 —the venue famous for launching Garth Brooks—as well as the Black Country Music Association. Staton is also featured in the new Amazon documentary, ‘For Love & Country’, and is part of The Black Opry in the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum’s exhibition, ‘American Currents: The State of the Music – Unbroken Circle’, which opened on March 7.
Along with Holly G (founder of the Black Opry) Philly-based songwriter and singer Amos Lee, Rissi Palmer (Apple Music’s ‘Color Me Country’ host) and Dyana Williams (Philadelphia radio personality, music activist), Staton and Co. are making ways and waves for young Black country/Americana artists to build their own dynasties, and to shine.
Learning from the experience of still-growing artists such as the Nashville-based Staton will be key for Rise, Bryant, Denitia, Givertz and the Kentucky Gentleman.
“I’m hoping to impart what I have learned and had to deal with across the many years that I have been doing this,” said Staton, an independent artist whose many lyrically poignant tracks such as “Sunrise” and “Leading Lady” can be found on Bandcamp.
Since her move to Nashville in 1981, Staton – along with other great Black country music storytellers, singers and songwriters such as Rhonda Towns, Cleve Francis, Mike Johnson, Carl Ray and Valerie Hawkins – have maintained quiet careers while fighting to be heard. The only thing more crucial to Staton and her fellow Black country artists than music is determination.
“The main thing I will tell these young musicians is the one reason that I am so quick to share my knowledge and my stage is because I don’t want them to be treated the way that I was treated. I went around in circles for years and years, trying. I could not get people to listen to my music. I could not get people to write with me – which is an important part of country music. I understand now that people in the industry were gaslighting me… marginalizing me. They didn’t want to be bothered with me. I just do not want to see anyone else ever treated the way I was.”
Staton believes that each of these five young creatives in the Black Opry Residency Sessions program has power, has command over their art and their voice. “I want them to learn, to understand, how much power there is in a song, and how much power we have, among ourselves, to create together,” she said.
From her point of mentorship, Staton is also looking at a brand of isolationism that will root out any of the five artists’ downsides.
“I want them to find their weakness in another writer, in each other, because that is how you grow. If an artist knows his or her limitations – maybe you’re not a great melody writer, or you’re not a great lyricist – you need to know that. You can’t be afraid of counting on someone else in order to realize your dream.”
In Staton’s mind, the point of the Black Opry Residency Sessions exists – as she does – in service to the song.
“I want the writers of the Black Opry Residency Sessions to know that it is not imperative to do it all. Sometimes you can rewrite and rewrite. Sometimes though, it is better to bring someone in to help you. It’s not about you – it is about the song. And I have all the hope in these five artists and for the future of country music. It looks as if it is in good hands. And I’ll be right there with them in that future.”
The WXPN Black Opry Residency Showcase will take place on Friday, March 24, at 7 p.m. at World Cafe Live 3025 Walnut Street. For information and tickets, visit worldcafelive.com