Beyoncé’s ‘The Linda Martell Show’ interlude is named for a trailblazer you need to know

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Beyoncé’s eagerly awaited new album contains a track named for a woman who looks to have been an inspiration for the project.

“Act II: Cowboy Carter” drops Friday. While the superstar singer has said “This ain’t a Country album. This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album,” the first two singles released, “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages,” are definitely giving that flavor.

As is the tracklist released Wednesday. Among the 27 titles listed on the new album is “The Linda Martell Show.” Here’s more on the groundbreaking artist who may have served as a muse for Beyoncé.

A trailblazer

According to Beyoncé, her new album “was born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed…and it was very clear that I wasn’t.”

It’s a sentiment Martell can likely relate to.

Born Thelma Bynem in South Carolina in 1941, the singer faced tremendous odds in the 1960s, when she attempted to find success in country music as a Black woman.

Growing up in the segregated South, Martell had sung R&B and soul music. When she attempted to expand genres into country, she was met with both resistance and racism.

“You’d be singing and they’d shout out names and you know the names they would call you,” she told Rolling Stone in a 2020 interview.

William “Duke” Rayner, who ran a furniture store, had heard Martell do some country covers and connected her with Shelby Singleton Jr., who had worked in the music industry and who had some progressive ideas at the time.

“Rhythm and blues and country music are the most parallel types of music,” Singleton has been quoted as saying. “It’s the working people who make up the listeners for both.”

The trio worked quickly. Within days of signing with Singleton, Martell had completed an album with a cover of The Winston’s “Color Him Father.” It shot to 22 on the country music chart.

“Country music tells a story,” Martell told Rolling Stone. “When you choose a song and you can feel it, that’s what made me feel great about what I was singing. I did a lot of country songs, and I loved every one of them. Because they just tell a story.”

Martell found more success with her singles “Bad Case of the Blues,” “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and “You’re Crying Boy, Crying.” She became the first Black woman to perform at the pinnacle of country music venues, the Grand Ole Opry, in 1969.

And while Martell recalls receiving two standing ovations that night, the road to country music success was far from smooth.

Leaving the Plantation

Martell has said she continued to endure name calling and heckling when she performed, but there was also the internal struggle of working with Singleton, who let her know that he would be releasing her music not under his SSS International label but from his Plantation Records one.

Martell and the late music executive clashed over her feelings it was racist, which Singleton denied, as well as his decision to promote a white artist, Jeannie C. Riley best known for her 1968 hit “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” more heavily than her.

Martell has recalled other instances of when she encountered racism, like an executive on the former country variety show “Hee Haw” attempting to “correct” her pronunciation in a song she sang for a performance on the show.

She eventually split from Singleton in 1970, and Martell has said that she felt he blackballed her in the industry. Her career in country music sputtered, but for the next few decades Martell continued to sing wherever she could, returning to R&B and soul.

A place in history

Martell’s story may have languished in history were it not for both her country music family and her biological one.

Mickey Guyton, who has become the most successful Black female artist in country music today, told Rolling Stone she discovered Martell’s work after a Google search for other Black women in the genre.

“I felt really bad when I discovered that I didn’t know. What she went through, being heckled and called the n-word,” Guyton told the publication. “I’ve wanted to quit the industry because of how difficult it is. I’ve been called [names] too.… It’s so similar, even though they were in such different times.”

Martell’s granddaughter, Marquia Thompson, produced a documentary about Martell, titled “Bad Case of the Country Blues.” It documents her struggles in country music from 1969 to 1975.

“Minority, women and marginalized artists deserve to play on a level playing field in the country music industry,” Thompson told The Tennessean last year. “My grandmother was (a) courageous artist who challenged an industry by following her passions. People who want to mirror my grandmother’s desires undeniably need to know her history.”

Beyoncé appears poised to tell it.

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