After making history as the first Black solo female artist to earn a Grammy nomination in a country music category, Mickey Guyton’s star is about to rise even further.
On Sunday, Guyton will make history again as the first Black woman to host the Academy of Country Music Awards, alongside Keith Urban, airing 8 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
“My hopes are to bring positive light and love and acceptance to this job,” Guyton told NBC News.
Though Sunday will mark Guyton’s first time hosting an awards show, she promises a good performance and several outfit changes. She noted that having the support of co-host Urban while preparing for the show has proven to be fun and valuable.
“You know, Keith Urban is from Australia and he had an affinity for country music,” she said. “I'm sure when he first started he wasn't getting the most welcoming arms and now he's here. He's using his platform to uplift me, and that means so much.”
As of late, country music has witnessed a cultural shift in terms of representation. With artists like Rissi Palmer, Jimmie Allen, Willie Jones and Kane Brown, many people are seeing that country artists do not have to fit a certain mold.
When Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road'' started to gain traction in 2019, the song reached No. 19 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Billboard then removed the single from Hot Country Songs due to it not fitting the genre, according to Rolling Stone. Eventually, Billy Ray Cyrus joined Lil Nas X on the “Old Town Road” remix, and it went to No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100. “Old Town Road” never re-entered the country music chart.
This showed that country music, just like the rest of the world, has a long way to go in order to fully embrace what it means to be inclusive.
“Well, a lot of people, especially today, are only seeing Lil Nas X or think that country music is just white guys, beers and trucks, and that is not the case,” Guyton said. “There's all types of country music. There have been a lot of Black people in country music pounding the pavement for a very long time.”
Historically, Black artists have been pushed out of traditionally white music spaces, even if they had a significant hand in creating the music. Before Guyton, there was Linda Martell. Though her contributions went largely unnoticed, Martell found success with the release of “Color Him Father” in 1969, leading the way for the Black country artists who would come after her.
Guyton wants to continue to dispel outdated stereotypes and misconceptions by showing other aspiring Black artists that they can “sing country, pursue it and love it, too.”
Despite the barriers and discrimination she faces from critics, Guyton remains the sweet down-home Southern girl she’s always been.
Guyton sings as if she is talking directly to those who have felt marginalized — specifically Black women.
“So often, we've grown up — especially young little Black girls who have grown up not loving themselves because we didn't see ourselves in anything. Now we're seeing ourselves,” she said.
Her passion for country music began in Texas when she was a little girl listening to LeAnn Rimes, Whitney Houston, CeCe Winans and her all-time favorite, Dolly Parton.
Guyton said her admiration for Parton has only grown in recent years, particularly after the star asked Tennessee lawmakers in February not to erect a statue of her after they showed support for doing so. Parton said the pandemic and the current social justice movements were more important.
“I mean, Dolly Parton is a national treasure, an international treasure in my personal opinion, and she's been preaching love and acceptance way before it was the thing to do,” Guyton said. “She loved her big boobs, and as much as people talk about that, she was like, ‘I am who I am and you're going to take it or leave it,’ and she is that person to this day.”
“She really does stand by her truth, and she thinks that Black lives matter, and she is all things great and I just love her,” she added.
Guyton is carrying the same weight of responsibility, serving as an inspiration to young fans who look up to her and will watch her hosting the ACM Awards on Sunday.
The message she wants to convey to those fans — and everyone else — when she graces the stage? Simply put, she said, “We’re here.”