Born in South Carolina in 1941, Linda Martell began singing in church at age 5. She first recorded in 1962 as a member of a R&B girl group called Linda Martell and The Anglos. Drawn to country music at a young age, in addition to blues, jazz and R&B, Martell caught her big break in 1969, when a stunning performance at the Charleston Air Force Base landed her a meeting with producer/label owner Shelby Singleton. He signed her to his Plantation label soon after. That same year, Martell made the Top 25 with Color Him Father and became the first African-American woman to appear on the Grand Ole Opry.
Early Life and Career
Famed country/blues singer Linda Martell was born on June 4, 1941, in Leesville, South Carolina, one of five children. Her father was a minister. Growing up in nearby Columbia, Martell developed an appreciation for many different musical genres—most notably country, blues, jazz and R&B—at a young age. She began singing in the choir at St. Mark’s Baptist Church at the age of 5, and began performing R&B tunes with a small group in clubs around Columbia, including numerous stints at the Charleston Air Force Base, in her late teens.
During one of her performances at the Air Force Base, Martell was harassed by officers in the crowd, who insisted that she sing a country song. She quieted the crowd when she finally gave in, and blew them away with her performance. Martell caught her big break when a serviceman who’d been in the audience that day told a friend, Duke Rayner, from Nashville, Tennessee, about the singer. Knowing only her name and town of residence, Rayner, a businessman, contacted Martell and persuaded her to fly to Nashville for a demo recording session. The resulting demo tape was taken to American record producer/label owner Shelby Singleton, who was highly impressed with the singer. Shortly thereafter, Martell signed with Singleton’s Plantation label—the home of country star Jeannie C. Riley (Harper Valley PTA) fame.
In the summer of 1969, Linda Martell’s song Color Him Father from her debut album, Color Me Country (released by Plantation Records in 1970) was an instant hit, making the Top 25. After being introduced to American country musician/promoter Roy Acuff, in August 1969, Martell made history as the first African-American woman to appear on the Grand Ole Opry; she shared the stage with Acuff for her debut Opry performance. (She would make 11 more appearances on the internationally aired, legendary radio program throughout her career.)
Martell went on to make many local television appearances, including on widely aired syndicates such as Country Carnival, 16th Avenue South, Midwestern Hayride and the Bill Anderson Show, and on major network programs like Hee Haw.
In 1970, two singles released by Martell, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and “Bad Case of the Blues,” made the Top 60. Martell did not appear on the country music charts again during her career. Following her 12th appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, the singer retired in 1974.
Martell resides in Nashville. Her hobbies include fishing, camping, reading, sewing and listening to music. According to the singer, she has a “secret” desire to act and her greatest fear is losing her voice.
Additional article: Ebony, March 1970 page 66-72
1970 Color Me Country