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Brittney Spencer’s Nashville Revolution

Brittney Spencer was stoned and chilling at home in Nashville the night her life changed. She had posted an acoustic cover of “Crowded Table,” a song of radical inclusion by the all-star country quartet the Highwomen, after seeing them sing it on TV. “It was so beautiful watching this supergroup come together in the way they did for this album. I remember feeling so warm inside watching it,” she says.

The group, which is comprised of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires, retweeted her video, and things began to accelerate at a rapid pace. Soon, Spencer was opening shows for artists like Jason Isbell, then making appearances on the CMA Awards and ACM Awards. Now, she’s breaking new ground in a part of the music industry that has not historically (or even recently) made room for Black women. “I’m doing something that is probably already going in the history books,” she says, “and not because it’s me and my song, but because I’m part of something.”

It’s a sunny spring day and Spencer is perched on a group of large stones along Nashville’s Bicentennial Mall, a public park on the north side of downtown that’s in sight of the state capitol building. She’s wearing a sweatshirt that doubles as self-promotion, since it has the title of her song “Sober & Skinny” printed in large letters across the chest.

Spencer grew up in Baltimore — Bicentennial Mall reminds her of public spaces back home, she says — and fell hard for country music after hearing the Chicks as a teenager. Initially she sang backup for gospel and R&B groups around her hometown and the East Coast. Eventually, some of the artists she was working with found out that she wanted to sing country music, and one of them, R&B singer Lil’ Mo, encouraged her to pursue her passion. “I remember one day asking her, ‘Do you think I can actually do this?’” Spencer says. “Everybody knew I wanted to do country music. And she was like, ‘You gotta get to where the music is.’”

So Spencer headed out for Nashville as a 25-year-old who’d just lost her job and felt like she needed to be in town to succeed. She didn’t know much about the country music business, beyond what she’d learned from the Reba McEntire and Taylor Swift documentaries she had watched. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” she says now. “I actually still don’t know what I’m doing.”

Her early years in Nashville were filled with trial and error, and she had trouble getting anyone in the industry to meet with her. It was Highwomen member Maren Morris’ debut album, Hero, that helped Spencer through a tough period when she wanted to give up. “Here’s this woman who knows how to write, and also she can sing her ass off,” she says. “I listened to that album over and over again for weeks until I talked myself off the ledge of stopping.”

Spencer feels like she’s had good fortune in the wake of her viral moment, and been able to work with people who have treated her well. She’s already been out on tour with Reba McEntire and Brett Eldredge, and had a standout moment singing James Brown on Jason Isbell’s Georgia Blue covers album. “My first points of entry into this industry were with people who made me feel really safe,” she says. “The Highwomen are family to me. Jason Isbell made me feel safe. Going on tour with Brett Eldredge and Reba, they were so kind and so welcoming and so themselves with me it made me feel like I could be myself onstage and off.” In July, she’ll get to play a show in London with Bruce Springsteen.

As the country music industry starts to reckon with its racist past, Spencer’s presence in town alongside other Black women like Mickey Guyton and Madeline Edwards is a powerful indication of how things could be. She sees the opportunity not just as a platform for her own career but for the artists who come after her. “We won’t see the true impact of right now for another few years, when we see the next generation of country artists and race isn’t even a question,” she says. “That’s going to be the real testimony of this moment we’re standing in.”

To make sure that future is better and more open, Spencer has a policy of being honest about racism she experiences in the music industry. It’s not attention-seeking — she isn’t a big fan of receiving attention, despite her career aspirations — but more of a reminder that there’s work to be done. “It’s actually doing a disservice to everybody if people are walking around thinking that these things don’t happen, that we’re much further along than we actually are,” she says.

Spencer writes about relationships with great understanding, but she’s also capable of coming up with a gutsy protest song like “Thoughts and Prayers,” which appears on 2020’s Compassion EP. “I sing to the only home I’ve ever known/I’m asking her how we’ve come/To live in a nightmare, American-grown/Where we let the good die young,” she sings in a gentle, restrained tone that doesn’t mask the anger at the song’s heart.


So far, Spencer’s output has been standalone singles and EPs, including “Sober & Skinny” and “More Than Perfect,” both of which fuse classic country storytelling with deeper messages about self-worth and the toll of bad relationships. On her 2022 EP If I Ever Get There, she returned to the source of her inspiration with a lovely cover of the Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away” that blends dreamy guitar tones and a reverent, soulful vocal performance. Her new full-length album hasn’t been announced yet, but working on it marked a big personal change for Spencer. “This album, it opened me up. It cracked me wide open,” she says. “I recorded it at the same time I started therapy, and this is the most committed I’ve ever been to therapy in my life.”

She hopes her success will make things better for new artists coming down the line behind her. Her unerring honesty and empathy are a big part of what makes her music so appealing. “Me being vulnerable is inviting,” she says. “I’m not skinny, I’m not the girl people pick — I never have been. But I make people feel at least a little safe. I’m starting to learn how sacred that is.”

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