It’s been a hell of a year for Rissi Palmer. On top of the release of her groundbreaking Apple Music radio show, Color Me Country, the singer, songwriter and radio host has received an outpouring of high-profile signal boosts, often unexpectedly (several Times mentions, plus a memorable shoutout from rising country music spitfire Maren Morris as she accepted her CMA award for Female Vocalist of the Year).
Still, the Durham-based country star is directing that attention back to her mission: Helping artists of color get a leg up in an industry that’s often unwelcoming. On December 18, Palmer launched a fund for artists of color. One-hundred percent of the fund goes to artist grants; at the end of December, Palmer announced that the fund has raised $10,000 and she’s been able to disburse 11 grants, ranging from $500 to $1,000, to 11 artists.
“I saw this fund as an extension of what I do on the radio show,” Palmer told the INDY. “I not only want to provide a platform, I want to provide resources for artists of color seeking careers in country music. I see it as being the help that so many provided me when I was starting out, paying it forward.”
Palmer says she hopes to eventually give out an annual songwriter’s fellowship in addition to the grants. On top of the difficulties of breaking into the country music world—one long predisposed against Black artists, despite the ways that Black and Brown musicians helped create and shape the genre—it’s been an excruciating year for musicians who are missing substantial chunks of income from gigs and touring.
“I don’t want anything from the industry,” Palmer told the INDY back in September. “I like my career. I like the things that I get to do in a day. And I am—this sounds cliché as hell—but I am blessed, I truly am. So I don’t want anything for myself other than to be able to give opportunities to other people and to be able to continue to make music. I can say more things than people who feel like they have more to lose.”
The Color Me Country grant fund is ongoing. So far, Palmer says she’s been able to see the fruit of the fund in the form of works in progress, including several EPs and videos from recipients that are in production. Things on the radio show, meanwhile, are chugging along: the 2021 Color Me Country year will start out with a January 17 episode on the “Class of 2021” artists on the rise, followed by a January 31 episode on country music legend Charley Pride, who passed from COVID-19 on December 12.
“I’m also doing this as a notice to the industry,” she says. “If little me in Durham, NC, who uses the same internet, social media, streaming services as everyone else, can find and help these artists from my tiny platform, why can’t you?”
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