This year’s CMT Equal Play Award goes to country music pioneer Linda Martell, in honor of her boundary-defying achievements throughout her career.
At the age of 86, Martell has paved a remarkable path in the country music industry for all that follow her. In 1969, she became the first Black female solo country artist to take the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. That night she received not one, but two standing ovations for her breathtaking performance. At the start of the 1970s, Martell released three pop-country singles. Among these songs, her country cover of The Winstons’ hit, “Color Him Father,” made the Top-20 Billboard Hot Country Charts.
“Linda Martell is a living legend who has influenced so many artists of color, giving them the courage and hope to pursue their dreams and a future reality of Equal Play in country music,” Leslie Fram, Senior Vice President, Music & Talent, CMT said in a press release. “Linda embodies the spirit of our ‘Equal Play’ initiative and we are proud to honor her with this prestigious award.”
Martell’s career descended into an unfortunate downfall after being suspended from her label as a result of her unsuccessful debut album single, “Bad Case of the Blues.” Despite this, her legacy has lived on through present-day performers because of her heroism, as she battled through racism in the industry.
This award was created in 2019 as a way to acknowledge he lack of female representation in country music, specifically radio and streaming services. Jennifer Nettles was the previous recipient of this award and this year, she helped in congratulating Martellm on her win.
During Wednesday’s CMT Music Awards, Mickey Guyton presented the award to Martell, who could not be there in person. She was then commemorated for this achievement with thoughtful messages by Rissi Palmer, Carrie Underwood, Darius Rucker, Jennifer Nettles and Rhiannon Giddens.
“I would not be standing here today without you,” said Guyton on stage. “None of us would be here today without you..so thank you.”