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Milwaukee's SistaStrings shine on Alice Randall's 'My Black Country'

A version of this story first appeared on HYFIN. To learn more about the urban-alternative station and multimedia platform celebrating the richness and diversity of Black culture, visit the HYFIN website.

In a genre where Black voices have long been underrepresented, songwriter Alice Randall’s latest project, My Black Country: The Songs of Alice Randall, is a beacon of change.

The album, released alongside Randall’s memoir of the same name, celebrates the Black roots and ongoing influence in the genre while showcasing the immense talent of contemporary Black female artists. Among the standout tracks is “Girls Ride Horses,” which gets a big assist from Milwaukee natives Monique and Chauntee Ross, aka SistaStrings.

The track written by Alice Randall and originally performed by country artist Judy Rodman in 1987 as "Girls Ride Horses, Too" is a powerful affirmation of women’s empowerment and the breaking of gender stereotypes. The title and theme challenge traditional notions of masculinity in country music by asserting that girls, too, can engage in activities like horseback riding.

SistaStrings‘ heartfelt duet with Randall brings the message to life, their voices intertwining in a beautiful harmony that resonates with listeners. In Randall’s memoir, she expresses her gratitude to the 30-year-old sisters from Milwaukee:

“Their performance of ‘Girls Ride Horses’ as a duet with the sisters trading verses has roots and wings. The roots are the sister harmonies most evident on the chorus; the wings are the verses with each sister giving the narrative a distinctly different interpretation and spin.”

SistaStrings’ journey to this unique project is a story of dedication and perseverance. The Ross sisters began playing instruments before age 5 and formed SistaStrings in 2014. They quickly became one of the most popular acts in the Milwaukee music scene before a move to Nashville in 2020 marked a turning point in their career. They've collaborated with the likes of Brandi Carlile and Allison Russell, and turned in a memorable performance alongside Joni Mitchell at the 66th annual Grammy Awards in February 2024.

The inclusion of “Girls Ride Horses” on My Black Country showcases SistaStrings’ talent and highlights the importance of Randall’s work reclaiming country music's Black roots.

Despite making history in 1994 as the first Black woman to write a No. 1 country hit with “XXX’s & OOO’s (An American Girl)” recorded by Trisha Yearwood, Randall’s songs have consistently been performed by white artists. This has led to the assumption that the characters in her songs are white, erasing the Black experiences she sought to portray.

With the album My Black Country, Randall aims to rescue her Black characters and give a platform to the often-overlooked Black female artists in country music. The album features an impressive roster of singers, including Adia Victoria, Rissi Palmer, Allison Russell and Rhiannon Giddens, who bring Randall’s songs to life. By celebrating Randall’s songwriting and the performances of these talented Black female singers, the album extends the conversation about the boundaries and essence of American country music.

Randall’s accompanying memoir is a deeply personal account of her four-decade journey in the country-music industry. Drawing inspiration from pioneering Black country artists like DeFord Bailey, Lil Hardin, Ray Charles, Charley Pride and Herb Jeffries, Randall finds solace in their history and aims to celebrate their contributions.

As Nashville has yet to fully acknowledge most Black artists’ contributions to country music, Randall’s album and memoir are vital to greater recognition and representation. Through them, she paints a fuller picture of country music’s history and future, ensuring the stories and talents of Black artists are celebrated and remembered.

Director of Digital | Radio Milwaukee