Country music pioneer Linda Martell to receive “CMT Equal Play Award” at the 2021 “CMT Music Awards” airing Wednesday, June 9th at 8p/7c


Mickey Guyton to present the award; Rissi Palmer, Carrie Underwood, Darius Rucker, Jennifer Nettles and Rhiannon Giddens to honor the country trailblazer

CMT Equal Play logo | Linda Martell photo

NASHVILLE, TN -- (June 8, 2021) -- CMT today announced that country music pioneer Linda Martell will be recognized with the “CMT Equal Play Award” during the 2021 “CMT Music Awards,” airing live Wednesday, June 9th at 8p/7c on CMT, MTV, MTV2, Logo, Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT Australia. 

Some of the genre’s biggest names, including Mickey Guyton, Darius Rucker, Jennifer Nettles, Carrie Underwood, Rissi Palmer and Rhiannon Giddens will congratulate Martell during this year’s awards as CMT highlights her place in music history as the first Black female solo country artist to perform on the Grand Ole Opry stage, along with her other boundary-defying achievements. 

In releasing three pop-country singles at the turn of the 1970s, including an unprecedented Top-20 Billboard Hot Country Charts single “Color Him Father” in 1969, Martell’s success and bittersweet subsequent country career changed the arc of country music history forever. It also provided the most profound case for supporting marginalized artists in country music and the music industry overall. 

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,” said Leslie Fram, Senior Vice President, Music & Talent, CMT. “Linda embodies the spirit of our ‘Equal Play’ initiative and we are proud to honor her with this prestigious award.”

Artist Rissi Palmer stresses the importance of Equal Play and her gratitude to Linda: “Equal Play is imperative to the genre. It's how we go forward and paint a broader, more complex picture of what country music is and who country music represents. Thank you, Linda, for being brave, fearless, talented and beautiful, and for putting yourself out there, even when it was difficult. I can't think of anyone more deserving of this award.”

Last year, Jennifer Nettles received the inaugural “CMT Equal Play Award” for her continued advocacy for women and diverse voices in the music industry. This year, she congratulates Martell on receiving the CMT Equal Play award: “We are keenly aware of the need for more inclusivity and representation in the country community for women and people of color, and we are eternally inspired by all that it has taken for you to share your gifts with the world and the beautiful ways that you continue to do so.”

Known for its continuing work in elevating underrepresented voices in country music, CMT’s Equal Play initiative was originally launched in 2019 in response to the lack of female representation in country music, specifically radio and streaming services. CMT Equal Play is designed to encourage and promote measurable industry-wide action and create an ongoing path for parity and diversity. CMT has committed to incorporating Equal Play across all of its platforms, including CMT Radio, and the creation of its own music video channel on ViacomCBS’ Pluto TV, dedicated to a 50/50, female/male playlist. 

Existing programs that fall within CMT’s Equal Play efforts include the highly-regarded CMT Next Women of Country (NWOC) franchise, which is celebrating its eighth year with the most diverse class of up-and-coming female artists to-date. CMT continually provides NWOC artists with promotional opportunities across its many brands and has recently expanded the program to include six nationwide tours, live events and more. In addition, CMT offers artists access to independent social impact and advocacy resources, designed to help them find and develop their voices in supporting charitable causes and highlighting opportunities for Equal Play. 

The 2021 “CMT Music Awards” is executive produced by CMT’s Margaret Comeaux, Switched On Entertainment’s John Hamlin and Amy Lin Johnson; the Executives in Charge of Production are Jackie Barba and Heather D. Graffagnino. Leslie Fram is Executive in Charge of Talent, Shanna Strassberg and Taryn Hurd are Talent Producers.Official sponsors of the 2021 “CMT Music Awards” also include Lipton Iced Tea, Little Caesars®, Ram Truck Brand and Verizon.

For more information, visit, follow @CMT on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, use hashtag #CMTawards and ‘like’ the CMT Music Awards on Facebook.

About Linda Martell*:

South Carolina native Linda Martell, now 80 years old, is arguably the most influential Black female artist in country music history. As a veteran vocalist in her mid-30s, she released three pop-country singles and signed a record deal in 1969. Her country cover of The Winstons’ hit R&B track, “Color Him Father,” achieved unprecedented levels of success for an African-American female country vocalist by reaching the top 20 of the Billboard Hot Country singles chart. She was also the first African-American female performer to grace the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. Her debut album (also entitled Color Him Father) followed in 1970. 

However, unlike Charley Pride, the iconic Black male country hitmaker whose career began during the same era, Martell faced both name-calling and racism while on stage, and was shunned by the industry as a mainstream country performer. Following the lack of success for her last debut album single, 1970’s “Bad Case of the Blues,” she was shelved by her label and prohibited from finding a new label willing to release new material. She eventually returned to South Carolina to raise her family. 

Recent years have seen a resurgence in interest in Martell’s career. Foremost, performer and broadcaster Rissi Palmer has entitled her Apple Music podcast Color Me Country in tribute to Martell. Moreover, alongside modern era performers Yola, Mickey Guyton, Palmer, Rhiannon Giddens and Brittney Spencer, Martell was referred to as a pioneering Black female country artist by Maren Morris when she accepted an award for Female Vocalist of the Year at the 2020 CMA Awards. In addition, Martell’s granddaughter Quia is an independent filmmaker who is currently completing a documentary about her iconic grandmother’s life. 

*written by Marcus Dowling, 

About CMT:

CMT is the leading authority on country music and lifestyle, offering a mix of original series, music events and specials. CMT is everywhere its fans are, including two cable channels (CMT and the 24-hour music channel, CMT Music), radio (CMT Radio), digital ( and social (@CMT on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube). CMT is a unit of ViacomCBS Inc. (Nasdaq: VIACA, VIAC) (“ViacomCBS”). For more information, please visit


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2021 CMT Music Awards


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