♪ Lights in the valley outshine the sun ♪ ♪ Lights in the valley outshine the sun ♪ ♪ Way beyond the blue ♪ ♪ Way beyond the blue, one more time ♪ ♪ And it's way beyond the blue ♪ - [Rhiannon] At the age of 17 Rissi Palmer had a dream of becoming a country music star.
The only problem is that the country music industry at that time was not ready for someone who looked like her.
Now a few years and a few twists and turns later she's finally realizing that dream.
But more importantly, she's become a powerful advocate for young musicians of color breaking into an industry that is finally starting to change.
- One, two, three, four.
(upbeat music) ♪ Some glad morning when this life is over ♪ ♪ I'll fly away ♪ ♪ To a home on God's celestial shore ♪ ♪ I'll fly away ♪ ♪ I'll fly away, oh glory ♪ ♪ I'll fly away in the morning ♪ ♪ When I die, Hallelujah, by and by ♪ ♪ I'll fly away ♪ (upbeat music) ♪ Just a few more weary days and then ♪ ♪ I'll fly away ♪ ♪ To a land where joy will never end ♪ ♪ I'll fly away ♪ ♪ I'll fly away, oh glory ♪ ♪ I'll fly away in the morning ♪ ♪ When I die, Hallelujah, by and by ♪ ♪ I'll fly away ♪ ♪ Oh, I'll fly away, oh glory ♪ ♪ I'll fly away in the morning ♪ ♪ When I die, Hallelujah, by and by ♪ ♪ I'll fly away ♪ - I am just so glad that we could sit down and have this chat because in so many ways what we do is so related, you know.
And we are of a generation and we were doing a very similar thing at a similar time back then and also now which I think is really cool.
There's a lot of parallels with what we do.
So, I'm excited to get to chat about all you have been up to.
And you're a big part of the new energy and the movement of color in country music.
Cause like, I focus on the history, you know but you're really you are having a big hand in what's happening right now like, on stages right now.
So, what I'm interested in is the aspects of country music that speak to your life.
That is the reason why you were into it.
You know what I mean?
Because everybody has that connection.
But it's different for everybody.
For me it was the stories.
I grew up in a house where music was whatever you wanted it to be.
My parents have the most amazing record collection and there was no... it wasn't segregated.
So, like, you could listen to Dolly Parton at the same time next you put on Aretha Franklin.
And, you know, my mom loved Patsy Cline and also loved Smokey Robinson.
- And so it didn't feel weird to me until I got out into the into the wild world and people were just like, "“You like country?
"” "“You listen to country?
"” So for me, it was always the stories.
I loved the instrumentation.
It just, I don't know, it spoke to me viscerally.
Like, it just felt very natural.
It felt very "“If I was gonna do this, this is the way I would tell my story.
"” Or this is the way that I would sing.
Or, I'm really very interested in this guitar.
And how this sounds and how this all kind of comes together.
And so it just it was a really natural, what's the word?
Like, it was a pull.
I felt a pull.
And, um, for the longest time, you know, once I got into regular school into public school and other black kids were telling me like "“We don't listen to country music.
"” - '‘Cause you were in Catholic school?
- Yes, yes, very sheltered Catholic school girl.
And then... seventh grade culture shock.
- Ooh, yeah.
- Going to public school.
- In seventh grade too, that's like... - In St. Louis.
Yeah, there were like two pregnant girls like, the first day of school.
And I was like, you can do that?
(both laughing) But... so it was, it was very...
I wanted so very much to be accepted and I already loved hip hop and I already loved R and B and all that.
And so I just dug in there and then when I was at home it was Nirvana and it was Tricia Yearwood.
- And Faith Hill and all that kind of stuff.
And so I just... and then I started paying attention, too, to the videos and I was like, there really aren't... us.
'Cause I didn't know about Linda Martell then and I didn't know, you know, the history and that sort of thing.
So, I just was like, maybe we don't do that.
Like, maybe that's not for me.
Maybe there is a reason.
And so, I started to focus musically and I would call it acoustic.
I would say what I was doing was "“Well, it's like acoustic.
"” And they're like, what is that?
What is that?
- Because this is before Americana.
- Right, yeah.
- And before India Arie and Acoustic Soul and all that kind of stuff.
- That's right.
Like black people didn't play instruments.
- There was Tracy Chapman.
- That was it.
- And that was it.
(both laughing) And so, and then Lenny Kravitz, but he's rock.
And so there wasn't...I didn't know what to call it.
I didn't know what to call it.
And I thank God every day...
The one very cool thing that my first managers did for me is they helped me identify it.
- And they were just like, they were two black women and their specialty was hip hop.
And so they found me when I was 17 and we went to go record in New York this demo that was just totally not me.
And I had like this weave ponytail and a bustier and like all this stuff and we were gonna be like I was gonna be Beyoncé before Beyoncé.
And then, we're in the hotel one night and I had this little notebook that I used to write my songs in.
And they asked me, what are you writing in this book?
And I was like, I'm just writing my songs.
And they were like, well sing us one of the songs.
And I was like, well this one I'm writing for Reba McEntire.
And they both looked at each other like "“You wrote a song for Reba McEntire?
"” And I'm like a 17 year old black girl from St. Louis.
- And they're like, you wrote a song for Reba McEntire?
And I sang it for them.
And they were just like, Rissi, you did that?
And I was like, yeah.
And they're just like "“That's country!
"” And I was like, yeah.
You didn't tell us you did country!
And I was, yeah.
And they were just like, that's your thing.
And they were the ones.
They were encouraging and they made me not afraid of it.
(upbeat bluesy music) ♪ Ah, ah, ah, Oh yeah ♪ ♪ Oh yeah ♪ ♪ It's the way I think, not how I talk ♪ ♪ No no ♪ ♪ It's a pride you feel that makes you walk the walk ♪ ♪ Come Sunday morning, palms up in praise ♪ It's all about my mama 'n '‘em ♪ ♪ and how I was raised ♪ ♪ It's a state of mind no matter where you're from ♪ ♪ Yeah ♪ ♪ Living like your grandma done ♪ ♪ Cause a good home training ain't a common thing ♪ ♪ If this is who you are, let me hear you sing.
Hey, hey, ♪ ♪ You don't have to be a Georgia peach ♪ ♪ From Savannah Beach to say ♪ ♪ From Arkansas to appreciate a Southern drawl ♪ ♪ Don't need no kin from West Virginia to have it in ya ♪ ♪ Show the world ♪ ♪ You're a country girl ♪ ♪Ah, ah, ah, oh yeah ♪ ♪ I'm the kind of girl that says it with a smile ♪ ♪ Oh yeah ♪ ♪ That sweet as molasses down home style ♪ ♪ Uh huh ♪ ♪ I'm what you might call real corn fed ♪ ♪ Oh yeah ♪ ♪ I'm a country girl born and bred ♪ ♪ Uh huh ♪ ♪ It's a state of mind no matter where you're from ♪ ♪ Living like your grandma done ♪ ♪ Uh huh ♪ ♪ Cause good home training ain't a common thing ♪ ♪ No no ♪ ♪ If this is who you are, let me hear you sing.
Hey, hey ♪ ♪ You don't have to be a Georgia peach ♪ ♪ From Savannah Beach to say ♪ ♪ From Arkansas to appreciate a Southern drawl ♪ ♪ Don't need no kin from West Virginia to have it in ya ♪ ♪ Show the world ♪ ♪ You're a country girl ♪ (guitar break by Charles Newkirk) ♪ You don't have to be a Georgia peach ♪ ♪ From Savannah Beach to say, yeah ♪ ♪ From Arkansas to appreciate a Southern drawl ♪ ♪ Don't need no kin from West Virginia to have it in ya ♪ ♪ Show the world ♪ ♪ You're a country girl ♪ ♪ Cause if you wanna be a Georgia peach ♪ ♪ From Savannah beach just say yeah ♪ ♪ From Arkansas then sing it with ♪ ♪ a Southern drawl ♪ ♪ You don't need no kin from West Virginia ♪ ♪ To have it in ya ♪ ♪ Show the world ♪ ♪ You're a country girl ♪ At 19, I got my first publishing deal in Nashville.
I left college and I moved to Atlanta.
'‘Cause we were like, nobody wanted to move to Nashville.
- Right, it was a totally different scene.
- It was just like, we're safe in Atlanta.
And then we would just commute, '‘cause it's like a three hour drive.
- Yeah, it's really close, right.
- To Nashville.
And so I would go like a couple times a week and write.
I met a really amazing producer, Deborah Allen.
And she did my very first demo, first country demo.
And we started taking it to different record labels.
We took it to all the major labels.
So they would take my demo and play it first.
- Oh there you go.
- And get a reaction.
And then after the reaction "“Oh my God, who is this girl?
"” "“It's great, I love her voice.
"” Then you bring me in.
And then that's when, oh my gosh, now we know there's, like, all these issues.
- And so so I did that for years.
I ended up not getting a deal.
I did a lot of, did a lot of retail and a lot of waiting tables.
A lot of singing at open mics and that kind of thing.
But like nothing was happening like, everything was just kind of at a standstill for years.
And it went like this until I turned 26 and I met the owners of 1720 Records and it was an independent, based out of Atlanta.
And I signed my first deal.
In hindsight you always look at things it's always easier to look back and and think that you should have been more cautious or asked more questions or that sort of thing.
But you know, I was hungry.
I was, I was excited and they were offering me an opportunity to do what I had been wanting to do for years and what I had been telling people I wanted to do for years.
So, we started working on the record and we released "“Country Girl"” in 2007.
And that record made me the first black woman in 20 years to have a song on the Billboard country charts which was nuts.
And I just, I'll be honest with you I didn't think about it.
Like I, when I was when I was doing it, I didn't think about like, those kinds of milestones, '‘cause those are different.
- And you, you can totally understand that.
Like, there's things that you wanna be known for and then there's things that you're just like, "“Really?
"” - The first black (fill in the blank) is usually not it.
- No, that's not really what you wanna that's not what you wake up wanting to have happen to you.
So it was kind of a bittersweet thing.
And I remember they played it up really big and it was that was the talking point and that was the thing that we talked about.
And you just always end up feeling like you're the problem in the situation.
All of a sudden it was a problem.
And who my love interests were, in the videos were a problem.
And who my love interests in real life were, were a problem.
And how I was dressing, how we looked.
And I just very quickly got disillusioned with the whole thing because it's just like, well if this is what it feels like to be on the inside of it then I don't wanna be on the inside.
And so, you know it just was like this thing that I was very excited about suddenly started to feel very heavy.
And like it was gripping my neck.
On top of the fact that, like, there was just a lot going on personally and professionally at 1720.
It was a mess.
It was a soap opera mess.
And by 2009 I knew that it was not... the thing.
- I got to play the Opry.
I got to tour.
You know, I had done a pilot for a television show.
I had a modeling contract, and I was miserable.
- And so I ended up leaving and that wasn't taken kindly.
So, I filed bankruptcy and then they disputed the bankruptcy and then we fought each other in court for a whole year.
- This is with the label?
- Mm-hmm, with 1720 and I couldn't make music.
And so I went back to my retail roots.
And I went from being on the cover of magazines to working in a store across the hall from the Apple store and seeing my video every hour on the hour.
- Oh my God.
- While I was helping ladies find jeans.
- And stuff.
It was, it was, it was humbling.
And it was horrifying.
But I, you know, I now know that there's nothing that I can't get through.
- So, I left, I got my discharge from the label in 2010.
I got married, moved to North Carolina, and for a while I didn't do anything.
I just had my baby.
- Well you did, you did a lot of stuff.
- Had a baby.
- Right, that's a lot.
- And, and and loved on her and and was just completely just enamored with her.
And children's music is actually what got me back into music.
I did a children's album in 2013 and then I was like, I can do this.
I can make music again.
And so then I've done it as an independent ever since.
- And thank God.
- Yeah, right.
- Yeah, yeah.
Such a small thing, but it's so big and so important.
- And I don't know, it kind of set the stage for where I am now.
Like, artist advocacy is really important to me.
- And making sure that people know the whole story.
- That's right.
- And that, you know, it's not just "“smile pretty, sing pretty.
"” It's "“know what's in your contract.
"” - Right.
- Own the things that you make.
And you know, you have a lot more power as an artist than the industry wants you to think.
- That you do.
Seeds was written in 2014 after the murder of Michael Brown.
Like I said, I grew up in St. Louis.
St. Louis has a very storied past when it comes to race relations.
- And those tensions still very much exist to this day.
And at the time I remember seeing his body in the streets just from friends that lived in Ferguson and in St. Louis locally before it became the national, global story.
- And I understood the frustration.
I understood the anger.
And then when they decided not to prosecute the officer I understood the reaction.
- And I was trying to, I was I was at home, here in Durham, and I was watching all this unfold and I was just like, what do you say about this?
And I tend to be a pretty positive person.
And so, I was like, okay well, I wanna put a positive spin on this but how do I do that?
And so I saw the quote They try to cut us down; they didn't know that we were seeds.
And I was like, this is what it is.
It's us, as a people.
Like, no matter how much you cut us down no matter how you shoot us no matter how you segregate us.
You, you whatever, subjugate us, whatever.
We keep coming back because our roots, our roots run deep.
(funk blues beat music) ♪ Mmmm, hey ♪ ♪ Brothers and sisters, don't believe what you've been sold ♪ ♪ They can bury your body ♪ ♪ But never touch your soul ♪ ♪ They built you a prison ♪ ♪ Locked up your mind ♪ ♪ Made you think you're nothing ♪ ♪ And filled your head with lies ♪ ♪Cant act too free ♪ ♪ Act too proud ♪ ♪ Shine too bright ♪ ♪ Speak too loud, for when they ♪ ♪ Come to cut you down ♪ ♪ That's when you gotta stand your ground ♪ ♪ When they bury our dreams ♪ ♪ We push them up through concrete ♪ ♪ We're growing where they can't see ♪ ♪ These roots run deep ♪ ♪ '‘Cause we are seeds ♪ ♪ When we rise up ♪ ♪ No weapon can stop us ♪ ♪ No wall can block us ♪ ♪ No hate can stop love ♪ ♪ We are seeds ♪ ♪ Hey ♪ ♪ I said we are seeds ♪ ♪ Oh yeah ♪ ♪ Listen ♪ ♪ Mothers and fathers ♪ ♪ Ancestors of this earth ♪ ♪ Bring your strength and wisdom ♪ ♪ Teach your children what they're worth ♪ ♪ Cause armed with truth and mercy ♪ ♪ They won't fall to anyone ♪ ♪ They're standing on our shoulders ♪ ♪ Reaching for the sun ♪ ♪ When they bury our dreams ♪ ♪ We push them up through concrete ♪ ♪ We're growing where they can't see ♪ ♪ These roots run deep ♪ ♪ '‘Cause we are seeds ♪ ♪ When we rise up ♪ ♪ No weapon can stop us ♪ ♪ No wall can block us ♪ ♪ No hate can stop us ♪ ♪ I said, we got seeds ♪ ♪ Yeah ♪ ♪ I said we got seeds ♪ ♪ Yeah, yeah ♪ ♪ I said the battle is now ♪ ♪ And we are the army ♪ ♪ I said the battle is now ♪ ♪ We are the army ♪ ♪ I said the battle is now ♪ ♪ We are the army ♪ ♪ I said the battle is now ♪ ♪ It's now, it's now, right now ♪ ♪ Hey ♪ ♪ When they bury our dreams ♪ ♪ We push them up through concrete ♪ ♪ We're growing where they can't see ♪ ♪ These roots run deep ♪ ♪ '‘Cause we are seeds ♪ ♪ When we rise up ♪ ♪ No weapon can stop us ♪ ♪ No wall can block us ♪ ♪ No hate can stop love ♪ ♪ We are seeds ♪ ♪ Hey, I said we are seeds ♪ ♪ Oh yeah ♪ ♪ And when we rise up ♪ ♪ No weapon can stop us ♪ ♪ No wall can block us ♪ ♪ No hate can stop love ♪ ♪ We are seeds ♪ - It's 10 years from now.
(both laughing) What do you wanna see?
- I hope that this is not a conversation.
I hope that artists are no longer excited by "“the deal"” and that they realize how much they can do on their own.
♪ Hey, hey ♪ ♪ I said we are seeds ♪ ♪ Oh yeah ♪ ♪ And when we rise up ♪ ♪ No weapon can stop us ♪ ♪ No wall can block us ♪ ♪ No hate can stop love ♪ ♪ We are seeds ♪ (logo boings) (logo whooshes)