Rissi Palmer Collection
Scope and Contents
This collection contains songwriting notebooks, photographs, CDs, and outfits from African-American country music artist Rissi Palmer.
The notebooks document the majority of Palmer's songwriting career, including songs from her first album and time writing jingles in New York. An annotated index of these notebooks was created by the students of professor Cynthia Cyrus's Spring 2022 Women in Music class and can be found in the VUIR at http://hdl.handle.net/1803/17673.
There are three outfits, two from music video performances and one from her debut performance at the Grand Ole Opry in 2008. The photographs are of these outfits.
There are also 4 CDs from Palmer's career.
- 1995 - 2019
Conditions Governing Access
This collection may be viewed only in the reading room of Special Collections in the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Collections should be requested 2-3 days prior to visiting in order to facilitate easier access. For questions or to request a collection, contact email@example.com.
Biographical Note - Rissi Palmer
Rissi Palmer Biography, written by the students of MUSL 3155: Women and Music, prepared 8 Feb 2022
Debut and Early Career
For Rissi Palmer, music has always been a part of life. As she says in the biography on her webpage, she was “raised in a musical family that loved both country and R&B.” She began performing at a young age. Palmer lightheartedly recounts her first breakthrough as singing before the Arkansas State Fair at the age of 16 — the audience’s reaction to her performance was “like the maiden voyage of [her] country career” (DeLuca). In 2003, Palmer was a finalist in CBS’s reality show “Star Search,” drawing her national attention (CMT). This stardom led to her being featured in the 2004 documentary, Waiting in the Wings, which delves into the role of African Americans in country music (CMT). Three years later, Palmer released her self-titled debut album with 17.20 Records (and significant backing from both Apple and Starbucks). 17.20 Records had previously partnered with Apple and Starbucks to boost the iTunes-exclusive release of a Palmer EP in 2006 (DeLuca).
Palmer’s first album included the featured single, Country Girl. Palmer used Country Girl as an introduction, establishing her unique style while still claiming a stake in the industry (Hall). Across various publications, Country Girl received significant attention and overall positive reviews (Brandolph, Norment, Sakamoto). The reception of Palmer’s early work was notably attached to her racial identity, with some authors choosing to touch on controversies surrounding Black representation in country music through Palmer’s story. That said, Palmer at the time reflected that while she “would happily serve as an inspiration for other young Black women,” she did not “‘want to always be the black country singer...I want you to think what a great songwriter or what a great singer or performer she [Palmer] is’” (DeLuca).
Musical Style and Voice
Palmer was so secure in her passion to pursue country music that she made an almost unthinkable business decision. While most young artists would jump at the chance to sign on with a label — specifically with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who worked with Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson — Palmer rejected it. The label wanted to morph her “twangy style” (Smith, 2007) into a more pop-rock style, while she wanted to continue on her path in the country music idiom. Palmer’s understanding of her own style comes from the influence given to her by her family. Her vocal journey started when her parents would play country, gospel, and soul music throughout their house. Her mother had a special love for Patsy Cline, which Palmer remembers listening to every weekend as they cleaned (National Public Radio, 2007). These diverse and powerful influences helped Palmer develop her self-titled “Southern Soul” style (Palmer, n.d.). She coined the term “Southern Soul” because her music has “...nothing that clearly stood out as fitting country or R&B radio. It's its own thing.” (Gormly, 2015). Overall, Palmer’s music breaks the barriers of genre and allows her creative voice to move freely between standard styles. Rather than being limited by the confinements of either country or R&B, she wants to “create something that just [feels] good.” (Gormly, 2015).
Navigating Race as a Star
Rissi Palmer was mentioned in many instances as being the first black woman in two decades to hit the Hot Country Songs chart (Rissi Palmer). Her 2007 single “Country Girl” made her a minor success in Nashville, but her stardom quickly faded away. She was left asking questions and facing a music landscape that she noticed not only held a distinct lack of diversity in terms of not just performers but everything from producers to board members. It is an issue that the modern-day climate has begun to shed a bit of a light on and Palmer has been at the forefront of the movement through both her music and her radio show. When Palmer entered the country music space, she could not escape the giant elephant in the room: she was black and a country singer, and that was an unlikely combination. Up to this day, Palmer is faced with the challenges of breaking the microaggressive perspective that country music is for whites, R&B/hip-hop is for blacks. This conflict started at the age of 19, when she was offered a deal by James "Jimmy Jam" Harris III and Terry Lewis through Flyte Tyme Records. Palmer, wanting to stay true to her “twangy” country style, rejected their offer of turning her voice into a more racially appealing pop/soul hybrid (Barber). In her early music videos, she remembers having to be a neutral bystander in issues regarding her natural hair and her partner’s skin color when producers were discussing these topics next to her, as discussed below. Now as an independent artist, Palmer can vocalize her passions around her country music career and race (Martin).
Navigating the country music industry as a black country artist, people had to often do a double-take in regards to her skin color (Barber). Palmer in her radio podcast discusses these racial issues with many guest speakers, going as far as creating her own space and allowing people of color to be a part of the country music scene with her grant. Once Palmer was accepted into a country artist career, she then had to convince the public that people of color do not just represent one specific subset of country. There were so many voices of country music and also so many voices from people of color. Therefore, trying to represent Palmer, as the staple Black woman in country or any other popular Black artist as to how Black people operate in country is foolish. Although all people of color have shared experiences relating to microaggressions, Palmer states, “There is no one way to be Black,” (Nicholson). That being said, she does not want people to mistake her as complaining about her lack of opportunity as a Black woman. She wants people to know, regardless of the color of her skin, that she is sincere and genuine about her love for country music (Barber). Gender Issues and Concerns and Parenting
At the beginning of her career, Palmer was surrounded by a supportive community that encouraged her to pursue her passion for country music despite the lack of representation for women and Black Americans. Her first managers were also Black women, and they were initially able to help her navigate the music industry (Palmer 2021). However, in other encounters, her intersectional identity as a black woman caused strife between what her managers wanted versus what her true identity was. She describes a time when she was taking promotional pictures: “I remember us sitting around — and this was Black and white people — arguing about whether or not my hair was going to be offensive to people” (Rodman 2021). These restrictions placed constraints on something as simple as hair made her uncomfortable, but she also wanted the audience to like how she presented. In the end, she requested that the photos be taken in her natural hair, and those turned out to be some of her favorite photos of herself.
Palmer was certainly not exempt from the difficulties that women face in the media, and she wasn’t afraid to speak on them either. In an interview with NPR, she expressed adamant distaste as to the way female artists are berated when making a mistake in contrast to the so-called “canceling” of Morgan Wallen. While The Chicks were “effectively blacklisted” for a lesser offense, Morgan Wallen used a derogatory slur, got a slap on the wrist, and is “still going to make money.” Palmer’s response to this blatant sexism displays her educated decorum and passion regarding this topic (NPR, 2021). On top of this perspective from the consumer side of things, the industry is working against women as well. For Palmer, it is doubly challenging to distribute her work because, as she says, “There’s already the issue of women not necessarily getting the same airplay as male artists. Add to that being a “person of color” and the odds are really stacked against her (PBS, 2021).
To bring awareness to the lack of representation and discrimination for black women in the country music industry, Palmer circulates material on her website and supports artists of color. Palmer has a grant fund for independent artists of color who are getting started and need some monetary support (PBS). She also posts media on her website to educate people about such problems in the country music industry. One of her posts gives a shout-out to the documentary by Lady Nade which explores the roots of country music and its debt to black music. In the post, she points out, “Of Billboard’s 2019 top 50 country artists, only one was black. Four were women. None of them were Black women” (rissipalmermusic.com, 2021). This statistic shows how small of a voice Black women have in the mainstream industry, so Palmer advocates those who don’t have a voice at all, leveraging hers against an industry that is dominated by white males.
As a mother in the industry, Palmer has displayed an avid interest in maintaining a consistent and stable home life for her kids and sharing the joy of music with them. Considering her parenting and her career, Palmer claims “[her] ambitions haven’t taken a back seat, they’re just prioritized differently… women are capable of so much, motherhood isn’t an obstacle, it’s a pathway” (Jones, 2021). Palmer is so very passionate about her family, and considering how much of her music is influenced by her life, it’s not surprising Palmer has an album dedicated to family. Best Day Ever is an album Palmer filled with “ideas… geared towards children and [her] thoughts on being a mom” (Weiner, 2017). One of the songs, Dear to Me, even features Palmer’s daughter Grace. She is also recognized for addressing the difficult issue of miscarriage in her 2020 release, “You Were Here (Sage's Song).”
Rissi Palmer’s EP The Back Porch Sessions (2015) was her first mature publication since her debut album in 2007. Released in 2015, Palmer’s intent with this EP was to reflect her life influences, mainly her family, and especially the time when she started singing on her great grandmother’s back porch in Georgia as a child (Hight). Since her debut failed to reach sufficiently wide success, Palmer had to create a Kickstarter to allocate funds for her producers, Shannon Sanders and Drew Ramsey, to work on the EP (Low). During this period, Palmer was living in Raleigh, NC with her husband and young daughter, and even went on a small acoustic southeastern tour called the “I’m Not Dead Tour” (Hight). Feeling like she was back at square one in terms of popularity, Palmer wanted to write music that reflected herself and not what any label would deem as successful or unsuccessful. “Southern Soul” is the genre term that Palmer feels fits her the best, as she pulls from both country music and R&B and everything in between.
A bit after The Back Porch Sessions, Palmer had gotten involved with and created a few organizations that served as an outreach for children. She co-founded an open mic called “The Relative Pitch” which is for young musicians and performers from the age of 0-18, which served as a forum for their concerns. Palmer also dedicated time for professional mentoring. She has worked with the Walton Children’s Theater, teaching a songwriting class, and even held a young songwriter’s camp during the summer of 2017. Being a mother is a large part of Palmer’s life, so she was inspired to start the blog WeAreSeeds.net which features an array of media from articles to cartoons that are aimed at educating parents on how to equip their children for adult social issues the world forces us to face (Weiner).
Revival (2019) is Palmer’s first record that was released outside of the Nashville area. It was also her first experience having full artistic control over her entire album (O’Cull). Consisting of eight tracks of “a potent punch of soul, rootsy R&B, and back-porch country,” Palmer draws lyrical inspiration from her own personal experiences (Crawford). The opening track “Seeds,” is described as a “protest song” as it was written after the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Based on the Mexican proverb “they tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds,” the song challenges racism, police brutality, and mass incarceration in support of those who are being crushed by the many abuses of the world. In 2018, Palmer collaborated with filmmaker Emil Gallardo, to create the short film for “Seeds” to unite and motivate people to vote for the upcoming election (GGM Staff).
Radio Show and Its Impact
Palmer has been a special correspondent for CMT's Hot 20 Countdown, where she interviews country’s biggest stars. She also hosts a radio show on the same theme. This show, “Color Me Country Radio with Rissi Palmer” debuted Aug. 30, 2020 “with the mission of telling stories of Black, Latinx and Indigenous artists in country… My life hasn’t been the same since.” (Tennessean 9/23/21). From the launch of the show, Palmer began to turn her attention to how she could use her ability to tell stories to highlight lesser-known elements of the past and present of country music - and the individuals who contributed and continue to contribute to the genre. It became very important to Palmer to push forward the work of equity and inclusion in her music career.
Following the success of the radio show, now in its second year of production, she began to broader use of her approach of using her fame to help lift up other artists like her. In late 2020, Palmer started the Color Me Country Artist Grant Fund to support underrepresented BIPOC artists in Country music. Inspired by Linda Martell, the first Black woman to play the Grand Ole Opry more than 50 years ago, Palmer partnered with the Rainey Day Artist Fund to provide grants to artists whose music would otherwise be overlooked because they lack the necessary financial support to push their work forward.
Overall Legacy and Importance
Palmer’s own successes have been notable. In 2007, she was the first African- American woman in twenty years to make the Billboard Country Singles Chart. She has been recognized as a “success in a genre that hasn’t always been welcoming to Black performers” (Menconi). The landing page for her “Color Me Country” show mentions that she has been all around the world and shared the spotlight with, “Taylor Swift, The Eagles, Chris Young, Charley Crockett and many more.” In addition, she has appeared on a number of TV shows, and been featured in Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, People, Parade, Ebony, and Newsweek. (O’Cull). Palmer understood that her voice could carry any genre easily, but as established earlier in her career, she was less interested in the mainstream than the mainstream was in her. “I was tired of being treated like a product rather than a person, and of never feeling like I was enough, or too much of anything to truly fit in,” Palmer said in a 2021 interview. Her understanding of the history of Country music and her love of the genre were what led her to pursue a career in country music. But one of the things that set her apart from many other artists in the industry was her songwriting capabilities. With nine original songs out of twelve on her debut album, Palmer established herself as a country music authority, not just a performer.
She used this notoriety to shine a light on others who would follow her path on her Apple radio show, which is entirely focused on telling the stories of people of color in country music. Rissi Palmer has claimed that “What the industry needs is a revolution, not a revolt. It’s not enough to see diversity onstage. It needs to permeate at every level.” This tells us she is not only in it for the joy of making music, but also to make other less-known voices be heard. As she puts it, “Country is the music of all of us.”
Barber, La Shawn. “Music Review: Rissi Palmer.” Blogcritics.org Music, Feb. 4, 2008, 9:41 AM EST. Nexis Uni.
“BBC News Presents Changing Country Music Documentary.” 1 Dec 2021, accessed February 8, 2022. https://rissipalmermusic.com/home/blog/bbc-news-presents-changing-country-music-documentary. Brandolph, Adam. "'Country Girl' hits the charts, stays close to her Sewickley roots". Pittsburgh Tribune Review. October 18, 2007 Thursday. Nexis Uni. Chideya, Farai. “Different Kind of Country Girl.” National Public Radio (NPR), Sept 21, 2007. Nexis Uni. "CMT Eye-Opening Documentary 'WAITING IN THE WINGS' Recognizes Black History Month and the Contributions and Current Role of African Americans in Country Music Feb. 21 on CMT; Charley Pride, Ray Charles, Arsenio Hall, Hank Williams Jr., Naomi Judd Among Guests". PR Newswire. January 23, 2004 Friday. Nexis Uni. Colby, Celina. “Black Music Matters Festival.” The Boston Banner [Boston, Mass]. 06 Aug 2020: 12-13. ProQuest. “Color Me Country,” https://colormecountry.com/. “Color Me Country™ Artist Grant Fund” [website], © 2022 Baldilocks, LLC, https://colormecountry.com/color-me-country-artist-grant-fund/ Daykin, James. “Rissi Palmer Looks Back at Her Career & Forward To Bringing ‘Color Me Country’ to the UK.” Lyric Magazine, Dec. 2, 2021, lyricmagazine.co.uk/rissi-palmer-looks-back-at-her-career-forward-to-bringing-color-me-country-to-the-uk/. DeLuca, Dan. "A country singer who bucks custom". The Philadelphia Inquirer. October 21, 2007 Sunday. Nexis Uni. Eddy, Chuck. Billboard, vol. 119, Iss. 43 (Oct 27, 2007): 60. https://www.proquest.com/iimp/docview/227208648/452960B33BEA44D2PQ/1?account id=14816. Ganz, Caryn. Rolling Stone, Iss. 1032 (Aug 9, 2007): 94. GGM Staff. “Rissi Palmer Releases Powerful Short Film, ‘Seeds.’” Guitar Girl Magazine, Oct. 15, 2018, https://guitargirlmag.com/news/music-news/rissi-palmer-releases-powerful-short-film-seeds/
Glor, Jeff. “Second Cup Cafe; Rissi Palmer discusses her career and performs.” CBS News Transcripts: The Saturday Early Show, 7:00 AM EST, Apr. 12, 2008. Nexis Uni.
Gormly, Kellie B. “Sewickley native calls new collection ‘Southern soul’ sound.” Pittsburgh Tribune Review, May 25, 2015, 9:00 p.m., https://archive.triblive.com/aande/music/sewickley-native-palmer-calls-new-music-collection-southern-soul-sound/.
Hall, Kirstin M. "Country music reckons with racial stereotypes and its future". The Associated Press. June 26, 2020 Friday. Nexis Uni. Hight, Jewly. “Rissi Palmer on Soulful Comeback: ‘It’s Scary and Empowering.’” Rolling Stone, June 25, 2015, 2:10PM ET, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-country/rissi-palmer-on-soulful-comeback-its-scary-and-empowering-46714/. Houghton, Cillea. “Country’s Causes: Rissi Palmer and Kelly McCartney Elevate Artist’s Voices Through Color Me Country and Rainey Day Funds.” Sounds Like Nashville, April 5, 2021, https://www.soundslikenashville.com/news/rissi-palmer-country-causes-color-me-country-fund/. “An Interview With Rissi Palmer.” Heart & Soul, Dec. 12, 2019, http://www.heartandsoul.com/music/an-interview-with-rissi-palmer/. Issitt, Micah L. “Rissi Palmer.“ Encyclopedia.com. https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/palmer-rissi. Jennings, Kyesha. “Rissi Palmer's "Revival" Is Pure Inspiration for Navigating Love, Racial Tensions, and Self-Acceptance.” Indy Week, Nov. 12, 2019 5:25 P.M., https://indyweek.com/music/features/rissi-palmer-revival-album-review/. Jones, Carly. “Melodies of Motherhood: Stories of North Carolina’s Working Musician Mothers with Rissi Palmer.” North Carolina Arts Council, May 10, 2019. https://www.ncarts.org/comehearnc/365-days-music/melodies-motherhood-stories-north-carolina%E2%80%99s-working-musician-mothers. Martin, Michel, with Rissi Palmer, Willie Jones, Morgan Wallen. "Country Music Continues To Confront Racism". NPR Weekend All Things Considered. Feb. 21, 2021, Sunday. Nexis Uni. Menconi, David. “The Hard Path: Country Musician Rissi Palmer.” Walter Magazine (n.d.), https://waltermagazine.com/art-and-culture/rissi-palmer/. Nawaz, Amna, and John Yang, Yamiche Alcindor, Stephanie Sy, David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, Judy Woodruff. "PBS NewsHour for April 16, 2021". PBS NewsHour (formerly The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer). April 16, 2021. Nexis Uni.
Nicholson, Jessica. “Allison Russell, Yola, Rissi Palmer, Amythyst Kiah Speak Out in ‘Once & Future Sounds’ Panel.” Billboard, Oct. 7. 2021. Nexis Uni.
Norment, Lynn. "Rissi Palmer.” Ebony. November 2007. Nexis Uni. O’Cull, Mike. “Review; Revival by Rissi Palmer.” Rock & Blues Muse [Blog], edited by Martine Ehrenclou, Nov. 4, 2019, https://www.rockandbluesmuse.com/2019/11/04/review-revival-by-rissi-palmer/. Palmer, Rissi. Biography, (n.d.). https://rissipalmermusic.com/bio. Palmer, Rissi. “Country Music Needs a Revolution: Essay.” The Tennessean, 5:01 AM CDT Sep. 23, 2021; Updated 10:02 AM CDT Sep. 24, 2021, https://www.tennessean.com/in-depth/entertainment/2021/09/23/country-music-revolution-diversity-black-artists-rissi-palmer/8208904002/.
Quill, Greg. “so; Rissi Palmer isn't the first black country singer, so shouldn't we stop making such a big deal out of her race?” The Toronto Star, Oct. 27, 2007, Entertainment, Pg. E10. Nexis Uni.
Rodman, Sarah. “Black, Female and Carving Out Their Own Path in Country Music.” The New York Times, February 17, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/arts/music/black-women-country-music.html. Sakamoto, John. "The Anti-Hit List". The Toronto Star, Oct. 6, 2007 Saturday. Nexis Uni. Sawyer, Bobbie Jean. “Rissi Palmer on Telling Country Music's Hidden Stories: 'It's the Music of All of Us.'” [Interview]. Wide Open Country, Feb. 4, 2022, https://www.wideopencountry.com/rissi-palmer-color-me-country/. Smith, Ethan. “To be young, gifted and country.” The Wall Street Journal, 29 Sept., 2007, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB119093704339641965. Weiner, Yitzi. “Rissi Palmer, A Music Star Who Gives Back.” Thrive Global, Nov. 20, 2017, https://medium.com/thrive-global/rissi-palmer-a-music-star-who-gives-back-e418fc378df9. Zachary, Catherine. “Lessons in songwriting and perseverance.” UNC College of Arts and Sciences, Nov. 29, 2021, https://college.unc.edu/2021/11/rissi-palmer/.
Contributors: Pearl Amanfu Jackson Buschmann Phoebe Cao Cynthia J. Cyrus Dulcinea Daaé Sloan Jordan Sonia Kim Isabella J. Lough David H. Mailman Sophia Meyer Julia Reparip Amanda Sisung Adam J. Tiesman Yichi Zhang
4 Linear Feet (2 Flat boxes; 1 Paige box)
Language of Materials
This collection contains songwriting notebooks, photographs, CDs, and outfits from African-American country music artist Rissi Palmer. The notebooks in particular document the majority of Palmer's songwriting career.
Offsite Storage, Special Collections & Archives
NMAAM-Vanderbilt University Collections Initiative
Purchased through the NMAAM-Vanderbilt University Collections Initiative.
- Finding Aid for the Rissi Palmer Collection
- Zach Johnson
- October 2021
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
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