Linda Martell, The Black Grand Ole Opry Star Who Disappeared

By | November 18, 2020

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R&B and Country singer Linda Martell poses for a portrait circa 1969 in Nashville, Tennessee (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

In a genre dominated by white men, Linda Martell changed the course of history as one of the earliest black female country stars even while suffering the slings and arrows of racism. Martell brought a new style of emotion to country music with her big, soulful voice. Although she broke new ground as the first black female to perform at The Grand Ole Opry and released a few hits, she is considered a hidden gem who disappeared from the spotlight after an unnecessarily short career. Today Martell’s name is obscure even to some of the biggest country enthusiasts. The unsung hero deserves more recognition for her immense contributions and influence to the country world.

Linda Martell Got Her Start Singing Gospel In Church

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Linda Martell was born as Thelma Bynem in Leesville, South Carolina in 1941 and began her musical endeavors singing in the gospel choir at her all-black Baptist church. As a teenager in the late ‘50s, she formed a family band The Anglos with her sister and cousin, and the group mesmerized local DJ Charles “Big Saul” Greene. Greene saw great potential in the group, especially with Martell, so he consulted them on their image and even was the one who encouraged Martell’s name change from Thelma Bynem. The group, now with the name Linda Martell & The Anglos, released a few singles, but nothing career-changing. Martell began singing on her own throughout the ‘60s focusing on R&B and pop when she met her first husband, drummer Clark Thompson.