CMT & mtheory announce new diversity and equity initiative “Equal Access Development Program”


Artists Madeline Edwards, Miko Marks & Valerie Ponzio along with management professionals Charlene Bryant, Kadeem Phillips & Marques Vance selected for participation 

CBS Mornings co-host Gayle King announces program at last night’s 2022 “CMT MUSIC AWARDS”

**Watch Gayle King’s intro HERE**


NASHVILLE, TN -- (April 12, 2022) -- CMT and management services company mtheory today announced the six candidates chosen to participate in its newly-launched Equal Access Development Program, an artist and management training initiative. Designed to foster and support all marginalized communities that are underrepresented in the genre, including Black, Native and Indigenous, Latino, LGBTQ+ and women,  the program was first announced onstage at the CMT MUSIC AWARDS by CBS Mornings co-host Gayle King. King called the new effort “a bold commitment towards ensuring an inclusive future for all voices in country music.” 


Artists chosen for the inaugural program include Madeline Edwards, Miko Marks and Valerie Ponzio; and music management professionals Charlene Bryant, Kadeem Phillips and Marques Vance. Equal Access will work intensively with participants for one year, providing themfunding, training and support, as well as access to mtheory’s management services, helping them further navigate and grow within country music. 


“mtheory is thrilled to partner with CMT to create this groundbreaking initiative with the goal of championing artists of color, and addressing the inequities in the workforce pipeline for all underrepresented groups in the country music industry,” said Cameo Carlson, President, mtheory Nashville. “By developing talent both on and off the stage, Equal Access hopes to tackle the lack of diversity and insular nature of the country industry head-on, and create networks and solutions for artists and managers.”


“CMT has long championed unheard voices in country music, and Equal Access is the next step in our ongoing efforts to break down barriers and move the format forward,” said Leslie Fram, SVP, Music & Talent, CMT. “We look forward to working with and providing opportunities for this amazing group of artists and managers, helping them make important professional connections to build successful careers within country music.” 


About mtheory: 

Founded in 2010, mtheory is an artist development, marketing, strategy and operations infrastructure designed for artist managers. The company provides managers with such services as strategic marketing, DSP relations, product management, tour marketing and production expertise, business affairs, digital and social marketing, CRM and analytics. In addition, mtheory has distribution, production, and financing capabilities that enable artists and managers to operate in a truly independent environment. Our management clients represent leading artists such as Flume, Galantis, Twenty ØnePilots, NF, A$AP Rocky, Masego, Zac Brown Band, Tyler Childers and many others.


About Equal Access: 

Equal Access is supported by CMT’s Equal Play initiative, an all-encompassing effort to elevate underrepresented voices in country music across CMT brands, encouraging and promoting an ongoing path for parity and diversity in the format. Equal Play efforts include the highly-regarded CMT Next Women of Country franchise, which has grown to include six nationwide tours, live events and access to independent social impact and advocacy resources. Equal Access is also aligned with Content for Change, Paramount’s global initiative that seeks to apply scientific research, rigor and data to transform the creative ecosystem through the company’s content, creative supply chain and culture. CMT’s Equal Play initiative reflects the focus of Content for Change on systemically transforming the creative supply chain, with a renewed emphasis on hiring emerging talent and moving to new paradigms that inject equity into talent pipelines. 


About CMT Equal Play: 

CMT Equal Play was originally launched in 2020 in response to the lack of female representation in country music and has since expanded to include all underrepresented voices in the genre. The brand has continually incorporated the concept into such properties as the CMT Equal Play music video channel on Pluto TV, dedicated to a 50-50, female/male playlist. Later that same year, CMT created the Equal Play Award to recognize artists who have advocated for female voices in country music. Award recipients include Jennifer Nettles, a champion for equality in music and beyond, and Linda Martell, the first Black woman to play the Grand Ole Opry.  



Madeline Edwards

California born, Texas raised singer/songwriter Madeline Edwards has transcended musical boundaries, incorporating her jazz, soul, gospel and country influences into her unique sound "through vulnerability and passion" (NPR). Already catching the attention of the industry, she was listed as a “Hot Country Spotify Artist to Watch 2022” and a CMT “Next Women of Country” class of 2022. Currently working on her debut album, Edwards has performed on Lady Gaga's Born This Way Tribute Record with The Highwomen, NPR's Tiny Desk Concert, and earned opening slots for Jordin Sparks and Grammy award winner Raphael Saadiq. Named a Top 20 Breaker artist on NPR, she first made her national radio debut on Sirius XM and recently released, “Port City,” her follow up to her hit song “The Road,” which has garnered over 6 million streams to date. Edwards made her national television debut at the 2021 CMA Awards, where she sang with CMA nominee Mickey Guyton and Brittney Spencer. She’ll join one of her musical heroes Chris Stapleton on the All American Road Show Tour this summer.


Miko Marks

Miko Marks was born in Flint, Michigan and grew up surrounded by a wide array of music and genres. While attending Grambling State University in North Louisiana, she largely performed R&B, but soon discovered her heart was in country music - “That was a time when country really started speaking to me in a big way,” she told NPR. Marks went on to earn spots at CMA Fest and release two solo albums in 2005 and 2007, but felt that the industry largely ignored her talents. She had all but given up on her career aspirations after she was effectively told by Nashville executives that her music was good, but wouldn’t sell and ultimately grew weary of the limits and ever-changing rules that applied to people of color in country music. Moving west to California, Marks continued working on her music, never giving up her career aspirations. In 2021, Marks returned with her third album, Our Country, and in 2022, she was named to CMT’s prestigious “Next Women of Country” program. Marks proves to be a bonafide maverick that has blazed an unprecedented trail in the music industry and is eager to spread not only her music, but a message of unity and outspokenness for Black musicians in country music and beyond.


Valerie Ponzio

Valerie Ponzio is a singer-songwriter and native West Texan with vocal textures as deep and brilliant as an El Paso sunset. She has an innate ability to go from smooth as silk whispers, to all-out raspy Mariah Carey-inspired vocal runs. Judges from NBC’s “The Voice” also found her talents compelling as they turned all four chairs for her blind audition, Adam Levine went as far as to say “[Valerie] you are the most well-rounded singer for this particular panel of judges that I’ve ever heard”. Since arriving to Nashville she has been hard at work writing songs like “Órale” and “My America,” which bridge the patchwork of Mexican-American culture and country music which is deeply ingrained in her culture, and her first-ever country song “Timeless,” which was the featured on Latin Spotify Editorial. Ponzio has partnered with Color Me Country, performing with them at the 2022 The Long Road Festival and releasing music under the Color Me Country grant.




Charlene Bryant

A Canton, Ohio native, Charlene Bryant holds a Business Administration degree in Music Business from Belmont University. Her educational background and years of experience working for the largest record labels, helped her establish a great understanding of both the needs of artists and the ever-changing landscape of the industry. In 2018 she decided to launch her own management company, Riveter Management, where she has worked with young hip-hop star Trippie Redd. Bryant was also named to Billboard’s Hip-Hop and R&B Power Player List in 2020 and 2021. Being in an industry that can be transactional and fast-paced, Bryant brings balance with her business acumen, results-oriented strategies, and value for authentic industry relationships.


Kadeem Phillips

In 2015, Kadeem Phillips founded Power Enrichment Group, which offers free access to high-end ACT prep and College Preparatory workshops to high school students in Knoxville, Tenn. In 2016, he launched Power Entertainment, a full-service entertainment company dedicated to managing, developing and creating entrepreneurs by focusing on music and songwriting as a stream of income. By relentlessly shining a light on the lack of opportunities for Black singers, songwriters, and producers in the music industry, his work led him to contribute to Creatives’ Day, a nonprofit in Nashville, Tenn. Phillips was called to become Executive Director of Creatives Day in 2020 after serving as the Program Coordinator for the Artist Development Residency. Through his countless efforts to combat inequalities in the music industry, Kadeem continues to support dynamic small charities, works with donors on smarter giving and campaigns for greater transparency, and diversity in the music industry. Through his work with PowerHouse Management, Phillips has successfully challenged the music industry over its authority to limit diversity in many of its core financial pockets. Creating new opportunities for emerging artists and student artists who are faced with obstacles to better their music careers. 


Marques Vance

Born and raised in Memphis, TN, Marques Vance has spent the last three years promoting and marketing new and legacy Gospel acts such as DOE, Koryn Hawthorne and Kirk Franklin. In addition to marketing some of Gospel’s biggest acts, Vance has spent the last two years leading marketing initiatives for Grammy nominated producer, Tay Keith’s Drumatized record label. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Music Business and a minor in Marketing from Middle Tennessee State University, and his experience working in the music industry has allowed him to obtain a great level of understanding for both music marketing and artist development. Driven by artist success, Vance takes pride in implementing the best creative marketing strategies to ensure ultimate artist brand awareness.




2022 CMT Music Awards


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