Linda Martell to Receive Equal Play Award at 2021 CMT Music Awards

She was the first Black female solo country artist on the Grand Ole Opry stage.

Linda Martell to Receive Equal Play Award at 2021 CMT Music Awards
NASHVILLE, TN - CIRCA 1969: R&B and Country singer Linda Martell poses for a portrait circa 1969 in Nashville, Tennessee (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Country pioneer Linda Martell is set to be honored with the “CMT Equal Play Award” during the 2021 CMT Music Awards, as the show highlights the first Black female solo country artist to perform on the Grand Ole Opry stage.

Making the announcement just a day before the June 9 show, organizers say Carrie Underwood, Darius Rucker, Jennifer Nettles, Mickey Guyton, Rhiannon Giddens and Rissi Palmer will all congratulate Martell, performing in honor of a true trailblazer. Martell released a number of country singles at the turn of the 1970s and is still to this day the highest-charting solo Black female country artist in Billboard history. And crucially, she helped prove others could do it, too.

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“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.”

Set to celebrate Martell’s legacy as a fellow African American country artist, Palmer expressed gratitude for Martell’s example, and the importance of the Equal Play principle.

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“Equal Play is imperative to the genre,” Palmer said. “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.”

Nettles won the first award last year, and shared a similar message of respect for Martell.

“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,” she said.

CMT’s Equal Play initiative was originally launched in 2019 in response to the lack of female representation in country music on the radio. The 2021 CMT Music Awards air live on Wednesday (June 9) at 8p/7c on CMT, MTV, MTV2, Logo, Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT Australia.