Amythyst Kiah Talks About Her Tennessee Roots and Finding Her Powerful Voice
To kick off the first episode of our special Biscuits & Jam Summer Tour, I spoke with Amythyst Kiah, a guitarist, banjo player, singer, and songwriter who recently appeared in For Love and Country, a documentary that explores the new generation of Black artists who are transforming country music. Her Rounder Records debut, Wary + Strange, was nominated for the 2021 album of the year by Folk Alliance International. She was chosen by CMT for its Next Women of Country class of 2022, and she was nominated for a Grammy for her song, "Black Myself." On today's episode, we talk to Amythyst about her Tennessee roots, her father's influence and support, losing her mother at 17, and her experience as a Black artist in country music today.
Get to Know Amythyst Kiah
A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Amythyst Kiah is an American singer-songwriter. She moved to Johnson City in 2006 for college, and has called it home ever since. The guitar and banjo player credits her father for passing along his passion for music with her. She has released two solo albums and one E.P. Amythyst has also appeared on the album Songs of Our Native Daughters.
What Amythyst Talks About in This Episode
*Being born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee
*Moving to Johnson City in 2006, which she now calls home
*Attending and graduating from East Tennessee State University, where she completed the Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies program
*Her close relationship with her father, who is her biggest supporter
*Teaching herself to play guitar
*Losing her mom by suicide when she was 17. Her song "Wild Turkey" was about dealing with this grief
*Her father was the cook in the family, and it was also his favorite pastime
*Touring since 2010 either solo, with band, or with Our Native Daughters
Quotes from Amythyst Kiah
"Music and writing and art was my way of being able to channel my expression. It was my best way to connect with people."
"I think with studying traditional music and having a natural curiosity to just learn things, it brought me to this place where I realize, my love and passion for art and for music and for song writing. There's a longstanding history and legacy of that as a Southern person, as a black person, as a queer person, all of the things that make up part of who I am, there are legacies and histories that all connect and that I'm inevitably a part of."
"My dad happily cooked a huge chunk of the meals. He always enjoyed it."
"All of us have a different story, but at the end of the day, our skin color is sort of (laughs) been seen as this deal breaker, historically."
"I don't care about having a number one hit. I don't care about being a platinum-selling artist. I care about making a living doing something that I love and creating art that speaks to me. Obviously I've been nominated for awards…and I'm not saying that it's not important. It's just that for me, focusing on what I enjoy doing and finding people that support that regardless of what their sexual orientation or their race or gender are, and really creating a community of people that want to hear good music."
"But once I got in the room with Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell and Rhiannon Giddens, and we started writing songs and started talking about the different, like, slave narratives, we were reading into things that we were looking at in the African American Museum archive from D.C., I kind of developed this sense of courage…And so "Black Myself" was kind of a culmination of all of the things that I've thought about or wanted to say at some point, or have said at some point. But instead of just saying it to people that I know, I'm now like, Okay, this is in a song, and now everybody's gonna hear it."
About Biscuits & Jam
In the South, talking about food is personal. It's a way of sharing your history, your family, your culture, and yourself. Each week Sid Evans, editor in chief of Southern Living, sits down with celebrity musicians to hear stories of how they grew up, what inspired them, and how they've been shaped by Southern culture. Sid takes us back to some of their most cherished memories and traditions, the family meals they still think about, and their favorite places to eat on the road.
Get a transcript of the full interview with Amythyst Kiah.