East Bay woman fights disparities in country music by following her dream

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- ABC7 News is celebrating Women's History Month by honoring women who are working to Build a Better Bay Area by making history right now. ABC7 News Anchor Kumasi Aaron introduces us to the East Bay woman who isn't letting racial disparities in the country music world keep her from following her dreams and breaking down barriers for others to do the same.

For the first time in 13 years, singer and songwriter Miko Marks is releasing a new country music album, called "Our Country."

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"The album is about healing, social justice, prayer, mercy," Marks explains. "It's about systemic racism, marginalization, and it's about hope and hope to change."

Not typical country music topics, but Miko Marks and her journey is anything but typical.

Marks grew in Flint, Michigan listening to country music legends like Loretta Lynn, Johnny Paycheck, and Kenny Rogers.

"I was really drawn to country music," Marks says. "I love the stories. I love the middle, the beginning, the middle and the end, the songs always had a resolution."

But she had doubts about being a singer herself because she didn't see any country music stars that looked like her.

"It was like, 'What are you doing?'" Marks recalled. "What are you thinking?' You know? And I kind of pushed it down a little bit. But then I figured out, well, maybe it's supposed to be, you know, because I'll have such a strong pull towards doing country music."

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After graduating college, getting married, and building a life in California, Marks moved to Nashville, ready to chase her dream.

"And I thought I'm on the way," Marks remembers. "Well, little did I know that there is not really much love for people of color in country music in Nashville. So regardless of how much I loved it, they didn't think I would sell or they didn't think I was marketable."

According to SongData, between 2002-2020, there were 11,484 unique songs played on country radio. In those 19 years, there were only 13 black artists among those songs, and only three black women. In total, songs by Black women received 0.03% of radio airplay.

"I had a cowgirl hat," Marks says. "I had boots, I had long hair, you know, so I'd already made myself into what I thought that will be accepted, you know, and that wasn't enough."

Heartbroken, Marks moved back to California, but never gave up on her goals. She performed locally, and in 2020, after recording one song, Palo Alto boutique record label Redtone Records asked her to collaborate on an album.

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"I started to feel excited," Marks says. "I started to feel like, Hey, you can really have another project."

Now she is living her dream, of making music, and being a trailblazer for black women and musicians in country music.

"I believe that this is where I belong," Marks says. " And this is what I want to do. And when I'm not here anymore, I want to leave a legacy of music for people that are coming under me to know that they were represented in some way so it's far bigger than me or them to crush my dream."

Marks will be hosting an "Our Country" album release live-streamed concert. 5 p.m. Friday, March 26. It is free, but you will need to register here or stream on YouTube.

Watch "Our America: Women Forward" streaming now on the ABC7 Bay Area app through Roku, Fire Stick, Google TV, Apple TV and Android TV.

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