Madeline Edwards dramatically emerged for many mainstream country fans before she impactfully arrived. A conversation with the jazz-inspired, Houston-born country performer at Nashville’s W Hotel in Music City’s Gulch neighborhood, highlights that the depth and scope of her art by Ella can surpass the heights it has already reached.
Notably, she joined Mickey Guyton and Brittney Spencer onstage at November’s Country Music Association Awards. Fellow Texan Guyton’s “Love My Hair” took center stage via a moving performance that saw the trio’s hair coiffed into magnificent displays of brilliant, statement-making Black beauty.
“That was my ‘golden ticket’ moment. Very graciously, Mickey offered me the chance to take part in that. I had just shown up in town inspired and wanting a fresh musical perspective. Though we hadn’t known each other long, she championed my talents.”
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Edwards has released her latest single, “Hold My Horses,” as she prepares to release her self-titled debut country EP on June 24. She’s also toured with Chris Stapleton and made a number of appearances at CMA Fest. Her recent schedule de ella has offered her a vision of how she needed to redouble her efforts de ella as she achieves greater renown.
“[Chris Stapleton] challenged my perception of what it means to be the best. He puts so much work into his craft, but he also perfectly balances that with still making time for family.”
Her April 2022 single “Port City” hearkens back to her roots with country music as a 13-year-old who was a decade into playing piano and “thought she was going to be rich, famous and the next Beyoncé,” by the time she was 17.
While living for a time in Santa Barbara, California during those years, she recalls drives to see her mother’s family in Fresno (“it’s not like this anymore, but at the time it was a big farming and rodeo town”) and hearing country radio on the road. Those moments were permanently impactful.
“As someone learning the piano at that time, hearing the jazz piano chords in Shania Twain’s (2002 single) ‘Forever and For Always’ piqued my curiosity. Plus, I also listened to tons of Keith Urban, George Strait and Alan Jackson (” i love how [his 2021 album] ‘Where Have You Gone’ is somehow respectful, controversial and a breath of fresh air”),” Edwards notes.
Edwards also arrives in country music with a decade’s worth of noteworthy musical credibility gained in other musical spaces. Her work de ella with Houstonian and Nigerian-American rapper Tobe Nwigwe earned cosigns from NPR in 2019. “I’m unhealthily obsessed with making my work perfect,” says the 2022 CMT Next Women of Country class member and Equal Play award recipient. Her work by Ella with Nwigwe represents one of a sparse number of pieces in her catalog by Ella since 2016.
“I’ve completed both the hard work on my music and the heart work on myself every time I release material,” Edwards adds when asked about what drives the evident passion for intentionality in her performances.
Her “genuine comfort” in country music shines as her breadth of life experiences blends with the genre’s insistence on pushing storytelling to the forefront. As she speaks to The Tennessean, her husband de ella — who has been battling Crohn’s disease for the past decade — is in the hospital. When she reveals this fact, she exhales. The stress that the 29-year-old performer carries is suddenly palpable, and the profoundness of her work begins to take greater shape.
Her weight in telling her stories as a woman, daughter and wife far exceeds those of merely reciting her existence as a female country artist of African-American and Polish/Jewish ancestry.
“I have nothing against the movement in country music towards being ‘Tik Tok famous.’ But, country music is also the last, true form of storytelling — and in this era, that represents the telling of the last true threads of American history before radical change.”
Edwards synergizes complex musicality, mature lyrics and soulful vocals into a sound she proudly calls hers and hers alone.
“My music is human and intelligent,” says Edwards. Songs like 2021’s heartbroken “Best Revenge” feature lyrics like “don’t need to key your car or make you cry or make out with your best friend / ’cause I’m movin’ on and I’m so damn happy for you. “
Even deeper, the idea that Edwards is not a Black artist making music explicitly inclusive of Black people is essential. Instead, she is a Black artist making what she describes as “good music that pop culture and society’s overall gatekeepers and tastemakers — most of whom are Black — will be the first to realize that it’s great.”
“Black people already love country music,” Edwards continues. “Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton, [Black people] love them regardless of genre, because we know their music — with its strings of R&B, gospel and soul apparent in it — is some of the best music out there. That’s the flawless standard I’m approaching.”
“I wish I could have my music reach the masses without anyone knowing who I am,” says the fiercely private performer. However, she’s a Black female country artist in full awareness of the idea that she is uniquely emerging both in the shadow and presence of artists like Frankie Staton, Miko Marks, Rissi Palmer and Mickey Guyton.
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Edwards is undaunted in the face of this moment.
“Miko Marks told me that I represent the first of a ‘new breed’ of Black female country artists in Nashville. That means that I’m humbled by and not ignorant of the past. I know the space I presently occupy in country music. Therefore, I have gratitude for this opportunity.”
She sums it up with a concise, powerful statement when asked about her future.
“I’m not just a pretty face down with ‘Nashville pageantry’ making okay songs. That proof will be in the product. I’m a career artist in Nashville for the long run.”