Linda Martel was a native of Leesville, South Carolina. She took to singing readily.
In one article she is quoted, "I love singing. It's my whole life, and I'll sing
wherever singing is being done." She started singing when she was in grammar school.
One fateful night she was entertaining audiences at local rhythm and blues clubs
around Columbia, South Carolina. One night, it was at an Air Force base club. In the
audience was a country singer by the name of Billy Haney and asked Linda if she could
sing any country songs. She replied, "Of course I can." But that didn't convince
Bill and the five buddies he was with.
Linda did not back away from the challenge and promptly did several country standards such
as "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Your Cheatin' Heart". Nr, Haney's group
was duly convinced. Bill so much so, he called a Nashville promoter by the name of Duke Rayner.
He brought Linda to Nashville and had her cut a demo tape.
Duke took the tape and played it for Shelby Singleton. It didn't take long for Shelby to contact
Linda and in just 72 hours, he had her record "Color Him Father" for his Plantation record label.
Within just a few weeks, she had made a bit of history, the first black female singer
and a record at No. 17 on the charts.
Growing up, Linda couldn't help but be exposed to country music. She explained in one article that
when she was growing up, all her family could get on the radio were a couple of country music stations
and WSM's Grand Ole Opry.
Linda felt comfortable singing in many styles, perhaps why Mr. Haney wanted to see if she could
sing country music that night. She sang jazz, pop, rhythm and blues and now country.
Of course the media asked her if she would go back to singing rhythm and blues. She coyly replied,
well, I do like it, but she noted, "I like the reception I'm getting in the country field. These people
are just beautiful."
She spoke of one example. She was on a package show in Charlotte, North Carolina with Jack Greene and
His Jolly Green Giants. She came on and did her hit "Color Him Father" and started getting applause from
the fans. And they kept applauding and she got three encores that evening!
Then it came time for her to appear on the Grand Ole Opry. She explained, "I was scared stiff. I mean, the Opry
is the ultimate, right?"
Her appearance went off without a hitch. And then later, she appeared with Ernest Tubb on his famous Midnight
Jamboree show. She indicated she was a bit shaky, being on stage with the old pro, but she admits,
it turned out great. She noted that she admired Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb, who she felt were the basic sounds
of country music. But she found herself liking the newer generation of singers such as Charley Pride, Waylon
Jennings, Tompall and the Glaser Brothers.
But it was apparent she admired one singer above them all - Tammy Wynette. She said if she were to choose
the person to be like, Tammy would be her model.
Her introduction to country music came with a price though. When she started her whirl wind activity in Nashville,
she had to leave her husband and three children (two boys and a girl) behind. But after about three months, they were all able to make
the move to get her sanity and roots back. Her husband got a job with one of Shelby Singleton's subsidiary companies.
In all, Linda made about a dozen appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. She also made an appearance on the popular
television show, "Hee! Haw!". After having three singles make the charts on Billboard, she quit in 1974 and
returned back home to South Carolina.
Credits & Sources
- Country Song Roundup; No. 133; August 1970; Charlton Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT