Who is Linda Martell on Beyoncé's “Cowboy Carter”?

The country pioneer pops up on the song "Spaghettii" and on the interlude "The Linda Martell Show." Here's what you should know about her.

On "The Linda Martell Show," an interlude on Beyoncé's freshly released Cowboy Carter, a round of applause greets Linda Martell before she introduces the album's next song, "Ya Ya."

Before that, she pops up on the record's 12th track, "Spaghettii," in which she nods to the controversy over Cowboy Carter being called a country album. "Genres are a funny little concept, aren't they?" she ponders. "In theory, they have a simple definition that's easy to understand... But in practice, well, some may feel confined." Not Bey.

If you're wondering who Martell is, we've got answers.

A genuine trailblazer, she was the first commercially successful Black female singer in country music — her 1969 single "Color Him Father" peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot Country Charts. In February, 55 years later, Beyoncé forged another path in the genre, becoming the first Black woman to score a No. 1 country song, for her hit "Texas Hold 'Em."

<p>Michael Ochs Archives/Getty</p> Linda Martell c. 1969

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Linda Martell c. 1969

Martell released only one album, 1970's Color Me Country, but a combination of racism and shady business practices drove her out of the music industry. Before that, however, she became the first Black solo female singer to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.

In a 2020 interview, Martell recalled incidents of audiences heckling her and calling her slurs. "I remember that well," she told Rolling Stone. "You'd be singing and they'd shout out names and you know the names they would call you."

Martell was born Thelma Bynem in 1941 and grew up in Leesville, S.C. One of five children, she formed a singing group with her sister and their cousin called the Anglos. Around that time, a local DJ suggested she change her name to Linda Martell, and the group soon became Linda Martell & the Anglos.

They had a few unsuccessful singles before deciding to call it quits. Martell continued playing as a solo act and, while singing at an Air Force base, she caught the ear of William "Duke" Rayner, a furniture salesman with musical aspirations.

Rayner introduced her to hotshot Nashville record producer Shelby Singleton Jr., who saw in Martell the opportunity to market the first Black female country singer. Martell recorded her first, and only, album in one 12-hour day.

<p>Sean Rayford/2021 CMT Awards/Getty </p> Linda Martell in 2021

Sean Rayford/2021 CMT Awards/Getty

Linda Martell in 2021

Released on Singleton's unfortunately named Plantation Records, Color Me Country spawned three moderately successful singles, and the album peaked at No. 40, spending two weeks on the country charts. But Singleton's attention quickly turned from Martell to Jeannie C. Riley, Plantation's biggest act, a white country and gospel singer to whom Martell refused to play second fiddle.

Martell and Singleton parted ways and, according to her, Singleton "blackballed" her from the rest of the industry, and she retired from country music in 1974. She spent the next two decades traveling around hoping to reignite her career, eventually returning home to South Carolina to be closer to her children.

Martell later worked as a bus driver for the Batesburg-Leesville school district, but in 2014 Color Me Country was re-released. Martell has only recently begun to get the recognition she deserves, receiving an honorary tribute at the CMT Music Awards in 2021 that featured artists like Darius Rucker, Carrie Underwood, Rhiannon Giddens (who also appears on Cowboy Carter), and Mickey Guyton.

Now, with those brief but special moments on Cowboy Carter, Beyoncé has helped bring Martell to a whole new audience.

Cowboy Carter is out now. Listen to Linda Martell on "Spaghettii" and "The Linda Martell Show" below.

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