Jett Holden, a Black, gay country artist, finally finds a home at Black Opry Records

Jewly Hight Jul 10, 2024
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Country musician Jett Holden at the CMA Fest 2024 in June in Nashville, Tennessee. Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

Jett Holden, a Black, gay country artist, finally finds a home at Black Opry Records

Jewly Hight Jul 10, 2024
Heard on:
Country musician Jett Holden at the CMA Fest 2024 in June in Nashville, Tennessee. Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images
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Jett Holden has spent years trying to get his songs heard. The struggle began in earnest when he completed the first tune that he ever wanted to share with the world, called “Scarecrow,” a decade ago. He used “Wizard of Oz” characters to depict how hard it was for him coming out as gay to his Jehovah’s Witness family.

But the roots-rocking singer-songwriter grew used to having zero support from record labels. 

“I started out in country, and then they shunned me,” he said, explaining that one record deal he nearly signed about a decade ago evaporated once the label learned that he’s both Black and gay.

“So I went to the rock scene,” he went on, “and then I decided I wanted to be a poet, so I went into the folk scene. And then I decided I wanted to do country again, and I moved to Tennessee. Things just weren’t going well, and then the pandemic hit, and I was like ‘I guess I’m done.’”

Around that time, in 2021, a country fan named Holly G was fed up with feeling like she wasn’t represented by the genre she loved, and determined to find performers of color.

“I found that there were a few lists of Black artists making country music,” she said, “but there was no central space for them to exist. No blogs, no journals, nothing.”

So she started one — the Black Opry. Holden was the first artist she reached out to on social media. And she soon expanded into booking gigs for Black artists, with Holden on board. 

The Black Opry’s mission drew attention from the start, including from NPR. But when Beyoncé conquered Billboard’s top country albums chart with “Cowboy Carter” this spring, it threw a brighter spotlight on other Black artists who’ve been shut out of country success — even those, like Holden, who hadn’t made guest appearances on Beyoncé’s blockbuster project. But for him, the timing’s right for increased attention.

The Black Opry has launched a record label through the established, independent music company Thirty Tigers. Holden’s album “The Phoenix,” which will be out Oct. 4, will be its first release. Finally, he’s got an entire team of professionals behind him. 

In June, he and Holly G met with the crew in Thirty Tigers’ Nashville conference room. There they strategized about how to showcase the literary, hard-edged and down-home sides of his music by pushing different tracks to Americana, country and rock radio and streaming playlists. The Thirty Tigers staff members — some of whom had never met Holden before — took in his backstory to gain a better understanding of the voice they’ll be championing. They gave him tips on improving his YouTube game and pointed out where his tour dates will bring him near Black-owned record stores that he should visit.

“Another thing that I really love about this record, and it being what we’re launching the whole label with,” said project manager Ale Delgado, “…even though you touch on a lot of different kinds of heartbreak, it is just obviously so full of love and the support of this community.”

For Holden, it’s made all of the difference in the world that he’s become part of a mutually supportive circle of Black country performers. With them in mind, he’s hoping for a breakthrough with his album.

“This whole time, working with the Black Opry has been building my confidence back in performing and being around the music industry,” he said.

Holden’s eager to make the most of this new partnership with a label that’s using the tools of the industry to help him move past its barriers.

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