Linda Martell, born Thelma Bynem (June 4, 1941), is an American rhythm and blues and country music singer. In August 1969, she became the first African-American woman to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.
Linda Martell was born in Leesville, South Carolina. Her first recorded work was with a group called the Angelos, a single recorded while she was in her teens. In 1969, she joined Plantation Records and had a top-25 hit with "Color Him Father." She made television appearances on "The Bill Anderson Show" and Hee Haw in 1970. She released a second single, "Before the Next Teardrop Falls", which reached No. 33 on the Billboard charts. She recorded one more charting single, an album and made 11 more appearances on the Grand Ole Opry before ending her recording career in 1974.
A January 22, 2014 broadcast of a Swedish TV program entitled Jills veranda - Nashville (transl: Jill's Porch – Nashville) documented the search for and interview of Linda Martell. The show is hosted by the Swedish country artist Jill Johnson, who invites other Swedish artists to discuss and explore life in Nashville and perform a classic country song together. In this episode, Jill's guest was Titiyo, a four-time Swedish Grammis winner (the Swedish equivalent of a Grammy). She is also the half-sister of Neneh Cherry and step-sister of Eagle-Eye Cherry.
In the show, Titiyo comes to Nashville with Linda Martell's record she had found in Sweden, wanting to perform "Color Him Father" with Johnson and meet Martell. Titiyo was particularly in learning about African American contributions to country music. Martell had seemingly disappeared from Nashville without a trace in the mid 70s. Johnson used her contacts to track Martell down, including calling Martell's former work place in South Carolina and finding a colleague who helped connect her with Martell.
Titiyo and Johnson travel to South Carolina to meet Martell, discuss her music and why she abandoned her recording career. Titiyo asks Martell to sing "Color Him Father" but Martell declines, saying she'd like to hear Titiyo sing it instead. Martell finally joins in the singing after a while and takes over, making for a very touching moment.
Titiyo and Johnson end the show by traveling to Pulaski, Tennessee to perform "Color Him Father" in a bar as part of Titiyo's facing her own prejudices and expectations of the US and the South and proving to herself that 2014 is not 1958. The program ends showing a jubilant reception by the bar patrons of the performance.
From the show, we learn that Martell decided to return to South Carolina because her children were small and she didn't feel she could keep up the pace of touring, which was impacting her health. We learn she worked in education for much of her life but few details are provided. The colleague that Johnson spoke to said she only found out about Martell's music career when Tammy Wynette and other country stars started sending emails to the colleague's email address to wish Martell happy birthday.
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