Beyoncé has been making headlines with her country album Cowboy Carter released on March 29th. The album sheds light on the erasure and history of racism against Black folk in “traditional” North American music, such as Americana, country, and folk — as well as the exclusion of women musicians. Black artists have been instrumental in the culture and history of these genres. Often silenced, but never quiet, Black women keep producing meaningful music and reclaiming their rightful place. Here are 6 essential contemporary country and folk singer-songwriters to add to your list of favourites.

Rhiannon Giddens 

Rhiannon Giddens, who is featured on Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter on the viola and banjo, is an absolute legend in her own right. She could be named first lady of banjo, with a mission to educate about the Black origins of folk music. Giddens is the lead singer and fiddle and banjo player in the Black string band The Carolina Chocolate Drops. She also took part in Our Native Daughters, an all-star folk supergroup singing about the realities of Black women throughout American history. Giddens has received several Grammy nominations in the folk categories, and her third solo album, You’re The One, won the Best Americana Album of 2024. 

Allison Russell 

Allison Russell’s first solo album, Outside Child (2021), references her troubled childhood in Montreal, where she was born. Among other nominations, the album was up for a Grammy in the Best Americana Album category. She also took part in Our Native Daughters as a banjo player and vocalist. With her LP, The Returner (2023), she won the Grammy Award for Best American Roots Performance with the single “Eve Was Black”. Other accolades include two Juno Awards, four Canadian Folk Music Awards, and multiple songs on Barack Obama’s favourite music list. Let her be our unsung shero no more. 

Leyla McCalla

Leyla McCalla first got recognition as a founding member and cellist in the Black traditional string band The Carolina Chocolate Drops and as part of Our Native Daughter. Her multi-instrumentalist music is rooted in folk, jazz, and Creole influences. In her most recent album, Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever, McCalla travels to her native Haïti, where she examines the history that took place before she came along. 

June McDoom 

June McDoom‘s neo-folk might be inspired by 60s and 70s raconteurs, but her music comes alive in a unique manner: through lush sound design. The musician, who studied jazz performance in New York, also incorporates influences of early soul and reggae into her work. June McDoom’s self-titled EP (2002) is an exercise in self-production, layering, and analog recording gone minimalism, while With Strings (2023) revisits folk songs and previously recorded originals with harp, cello, viola, violin, and upright bass arrangements. 

Valerie June 

Valerie June calls her sound “organic moonshine roots music,” and that is not up for debate. Supported by a clear, distinctive twangy voice, June’s music incorporates Appalachian folk, soul, bluegrass, and country influences. Known for the guitar, banjo, and lap-steel guitar, the Tennessee-born, Grammy-nominated musician is moreover a best-selling author and poet, as well as yogi, healer, and illustrator. The album The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers (2021) is one of ethereal, introspective songs that cradle the soul. 

Hurray for the Riff Raff 

Spanning a career of nearly two decades, the unclassifiable singer-songwriter Alynda Segarra, better known under their moniker Hurray for the Riff Raff, recently released their 9th studio album, The Past Is Still Alive, in early 2024. The new LP carries the folk-Americana torch of their debuts, tinted with a blues and punk attitude. Make sure not to miss HFTRR’s entire catalogue, in which the singer documents growing up in the Bronx, living in New Orleans, gentrification, climate change, queerness, and Puerto Rican heritage.

Written by Christelle Saint-Julien
Illustration by
Holly Li

Check out the previous articles in our series here: 5 Women Who Revolutionized Electronic Music and 5 Women Who Revolutionized Hip-hop Music.