“I pick the banjo up and they sneer at me / ‘cause I’m black myself / I wanna sweep that gal right off her feet / But I’m black myself.”

When Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell released ‘Songs Of Our Native Daughters’ in 2019 it was a catalyst. A catalyst that asked questions that had been asked for a very long time, but this time the questions demanded answers and not just recognition, reaction or rhetoric. That’s what a great song can do…



‘Black Myself’ is a great song. Make no mistake, that it was only written and released in the last couple of years doesn’t matter when you see the impact Amythyst Kiah’s tune has had upon the world of music and its surrounding cultures. The Chattanooga-born songwriter brought the song of conviction to the sessions that would result in Smithsonian Folkways’ ‘Songs Of Our Native Daughters’ album and producer/performer Rhiannon Giddens recognised its power immediately: “Amythyst brought some of the most unflinching, razor-sharp and honest words to the table,” she has said. “I was captivated by her incredible voice and intense vibe. A daughter of the South, but not trapped by it, she is forging her own path.” Giddens couldn’t have known how prophetic that last statement was, as ‘Black Myself’ earned a Grammy nomination for Best American Roots Song in 2019 and its writer decided to record and release a radically reimagined take on her 2021 album ‘Wary + Strange’.



“It’s the first song I’ve written that is confrontational,” Amythyst has said. “I’d always made it a point to sing songs that anybody could relate to, but this was something that had been welling up inside me for a long time.” Two million and counting Spotify streams later and ‘Black Myself’ is proving itself a song that, in fact, anybody can relate to. Kiah’s version is gritty, guttural and gaining traction all the time. Its power may rest in that repetitive declaration of independence, but the sound of its guitars, drums and booming bassline all mark it out as one of those tunes that has been hovering in the ether for years just waiting for the right songwriter to pluck it out of the air. “The refrain is intended to be an anthem for those who have been alienated and othered because of the colour of their skin,” says Amythyst.



Like many great modern Americana songs, ‘Black Myself’ was inspired by a traditional song as old as the hills: Sid Hemphill’s take on the seminal ‘John Henry’ and, in particular, the lyric that declares “… I don’t like no red-black woman, Black myself…”. “This sentiment is linked to the history of interacial discrimination,” Kiah has said. “I thought about that and how this negative connotation of blackness was integral to slavery.” Redefining the limits of roots music, the songwriter decided to depart from her mid-tempo and largely acoustic original prototype and propel the song’s kinetic tension to the forefront amidst stacked vocals and washes of electric guitar. The result? The line from Hemphill’s ‘John Henry’ had an answer…



The recording of the song Amythyst released on her 2021 album ‘Wary + Strange’ was made inside Los Angeles’ famed Sound City studios. The legendary place made (in)famous by Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and more recently Dave Grohl’s acclaimed 2013 documentary, was the site chosen by Kiah and her label Rounder Records for the recording of the debut album. Rolling Stone took one listen and declared the powerful performer “one of Americana’s great up-and-coming secrets” and Kiah’s hard-won ascent towards mainstream recognition had begun. Speaking of powerful performances, check out our favourite version of ‘Black Myself’, when the writer performed the song live with Our Native Daughters at ACL Presents: Americana 18th Annual Honors in late 2019…

Read Story of the Song #3: ‘Man Of Constant Sorrow’ here.