Today, rising country music star Brittney Spencer will perform the National Anthem at the 148th Kentucky Derby in Louisville. Spencer, who describes herself as “Baltimore AF”, first made a name for herself covering “Crowded Table” by The Highwomen. Her video went viral on Twitter and caught the attention of several country artists. Since then, she has released an EP called Compassion and several singles, including the popular “Sober & Skinny.”
Ahead of her performance of “The Star Spangled Banner,” we spoke with Spencer about her introduction to country music, prepping for the big stage, and her special connection to horses. Here are five things to know about the country singer.
A friend introduced her to country music
I listened to everything growing up because my family listened to everything. But my love for country music came because a friend of mine named Keisha told me I needed to listen to The Dixie Chicks (now The Chicks) and I did and I fell in love. They were my gateway. Baltimore is where I’m from and it’s such an eclectic city. The country radio station is consistently the number one listened to station in the city. So it wasn’t really hard to dive in.
I found ways to fuse it with other things that I loved. I grew up in church so I sang gospel. I was classically trained throughout middle and high school. I was listening to Maria Callas and Marian Anderson. It was a lot all at once. But the thing that really stuck with me was the storytelling in country music. I always wanted to tell stories and sonically put my own little spin on it.
She’s built for the challenge of being a Black woman in country music
My experience [as a Black woman in country music] has been–it’s been all over the place. The creative community has been so welcoming. I have friends and champions who’ve been really supportive. But also–just like anything–when you’re acclimating to something new, you face obstacles and some challenges. I think any Black person can understand what that’s like being in any predominantly white space. I’m going to be real about that. It’s been a challenge but I feel like I’ve tried to take on those challenges as best as I can. I’m surrounded by a bunch of resilient people. There are a bunch of Black women who’ve taught me how to keep going and how to push for what it is that I really want in life. I think I try to do that as best as I can.
She doesn’t entirely know what her song “Sober and Skinny” is about
I wanted to write a song that was happening right in the middle of a conversation between a couple that really loved each other but were having a really complex, not black and white conversation about how they feel about themselves and how they feel about each other. Honestly, I don’t know where it came from. I was just sitting on my bed one day and I wrote the chorus. Then I took it to my co-writers and we wrote it in an hour/hour and a half. There was something about being in the tension of a story and the story having no resolve that I really was attracted to. I like those stories. While it’s not autobiographical at all for me, it still draws on several of my experiences. I’ve never been skinny.
I like to draw from my experiences, put them in songs in a way that makes people want to look at their own in a different way. “Sober and Skinny” is a metaphor for anything. You can switch those words and find a way to describe your own nuanced relationship. People ask me what the song is about and I really don’t know. All I know is it was on my head, it was on my heart. I just wanted to write about this couple that I feel like I probably know through this song. I feel like I probably know somebody like them.
She likes to get quiet before a big performance
I enjoy solitude moments before I go on stage. I feel like I don’t want to drain out my energy. A lot of the songs I sing are really personal and sometimes emotional so I just want to have the energy to give people what I think they deserve which is all of me on that stage.
She has a special connection to horses
Being able to sing at the Kentucky Derby is such a bucket list moment for me. Honestly, I look at my life sometimes, especially over the last two years, and I’m like, ‘How in the world am I doing this stuff?!’ These are things that I’ve dreamed of. I love it. My first ever photo shoot–when I finally got enough money to do a professional photo shoot, it was at a little horse ranch in Baltimore, not too far from my parents’ house. I’ve always loved horses. I have pictures of horses all in my apartment, even as sacred as in my bathroom. It means a lot to me to sing at the Kentucky Derby. Then a few weeks later, I’m doing Preakness Live in Baltimore with Megan Thee Stallion. I am ecstatic. Literally, me and horses this month, it’s my jam. I cannot believe that my month is so jam-packed with so much horsing around. I’m excited!
It’s such an important time and I just know that I don’t just represent myself. Maybe somebody seeing me, somebody that looks like them, maybe they can see what they can do too.