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Brittney Spencer brings her culture to country music

Something is happening in the music world. Genres that have historically been perceived as belonging strictly to white history and culture are getting a second look, an unveiling of a more diverse heritage. Classical music is one. Country is another.

As someone who has been at the forefront of this conversation in the sphere of classical music, I can say that it's a strange place to be. On one hand, it's a tremendous privilege to uncover hidden stories and illuminate buried truths. On the other, it's kind of exhausting to constantly explain and advocate for something that has been hiding in plain sight all along.

Brittney Spencer's name may be new to you, although she's been working in the country music business for years. It's been a long, hard climb with plenty of setbacks and rejections, lots of odd jobs, hard knocks and paid dues. That's all changed since her debut album, My Stupid Life, came out last fall and was called "one of the most convincing country statements in a while" by Rolling Stone. Maybe you've seen her in recent years sharing stages with artists from Megan Thee Stallion to Bruce Springsteen. Or maybe, like millions of other fans, you just discovered her two months ago, when Beyoncé released her country album Cowboy Carter, featuring Brittney on "BLACKBIIRD."

Cowboy Carter debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, with record-breaking streaming numbers, and the album launched an international conversation about the presence and history of Black artists in country music. For Brittney and many other Black artists who have been immersed in this music for decades, for lifetimes, this sudden bright spotlight is a place to shine, but more importantly, to illuminate their own lineage and the truth of this quintessentially American musical tradition.

For Brittney, this moment is also about redefining the genre itself. Her music has blended roots: country, rock, pop, R&B. It's bold and fresh and authentically her own. Reclaiming history is one thing, creating something new from it is another. And that's what she's doing, with gratitude for her community, joy in her music-making, and no explanations necessary.

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Lara Downes is among the foremost American pianists of her generation, a trailblazer both on and off the stage, whose musical roadmap seeks inspiration from the legacies of history, family and collective memory. As a chart-topping recording artist, a powerfully charismatic performer, a curator and tastemaker, Downes is recognized as a cultural visionary on the national arts scene.
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