Linda Martell was a former country and blues artist who made her mark in the industry by becoming the first African-American woman to star in the Grand Ole Opry. Martell enjoyed a brief period of success but elected to raise her family and preserve her health instead of chasing down fame as a musician.
Born Thelma Bynem on June 4, 1941 in Leesville, S.C., Martell honed her voice early on as a member of her church choir at the age of 5. As she grew older, Martell became interested in R&B, the blues, and country. Her big break came in 1969 after she sang at the Charleston Air Force Base. Her performance eventually landed her a meeting with producer and Plantation record label owner, Shelby Singleton.
Martell’s good fortune continued to grow after she landed on the top 25 charts with the single “Color Him Father” from her debut album, “Color Me Country.” The song’s popularity led to her appearing on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry stage and gave way to television appearances on variety programs like “Hee Haw” and “The Bill Anderson Show.”
In 1970, Martell tried to replicate the success of her debut and did so with “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” and “Bad Case of the Blues,” both which charted. It was the last of Martell’s recordings that would chart. Four years later and still in her early ’30’s, Martell decided to leave the music business behind to care for her children and to tend to her health.
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A Swedish television program did a profile piece on Martell in which she explained why she walked away, bringing up the aforementioned stresses of parenthood and the impact touring had on her. In the profile, it was revealed that Martell became an educator and never again returned to music.