“Remember your roots: We all start at the bottom…remember that. When someone comes to you for advice, give it. Be the person you were hoping to meet when you were starting out.”
I had the pleasure to interview singer songwriter Rissi Palmer. Rissi began her career in 2007, making history as the first African American woman on the Billboard Country charts in 20 years with her song “Country Girl”. She performed at the White House, appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, and in several publications including Ebony, Parade, Vibe, and The Wall Street Journal, to name a few. She made national television and radio appearances such as the CBS Early Show, PBS’ Tavis Smiley Show, and Sirius XM’s Dr. Maya Angelou’s Show on “Oprah & Friends.” Independently, she has produced a children’s album, Best Day Ever, and an ep, The Back Porch Sessions. She now runs the blog, WeAreSeeds.net, focused on “raising happy, healthy, socially conscious, intellectual, and spiritually strong children in the ‘Post-Truth’ Resistance Era”.
Yitzi: What is your “backstory”?
I was born in Sewickley, PA and raised in Eureka, MO, a suburb of St. Louis. I got my love of music and the arts from my mother, Donzella. She was the one who made me dance and sing at the beauty shop when I was child J She died of cancer when I was 7, which was devastating to me…it still is. My father remarried and I got an amazing mother and a little brother.
I knew I wanted to be an entertainer from the age of 3. I performed in church, pageants, groups, and plays throughout my childhood and got my first publishing deal in Nashville at 18. I wrote songs for years before I signed my first record deal at 26. My debut album was released 10 years ago this month… it was an amazing time.
However, due to personal and business differences, I left the label in 2009, completely over the music business. I married my husband Bryan in 2010 and had my daughter, Grace, in 2011 and that was my life for a while. I got the itch to start singing again in 2012 and released a children’s album and then an “adult” album in 2015.
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
The most interesting story of my career is more of an experience. As a black country singer, I was often THE brown face in a sea of white. It never bothered me, but I was always very aware of it. When I started getting fan mail, I would get these messages from other black people, young women most often, who loved Country music but were always afraid to admit it because they didn’t want to be considered weird or “not black enough”. It made me really happy that they felt more comfortable being themselves because of something that I did. I admit that in the beginning, I wasn’t really thinking of the “big picture” ramifications of me pursuing a country music career; I just loved the music and wanted to be a star. Looking back though, I realize how important representation is. It’s a beautiful thing to see yourself reflected in the things you dream of doing but may think aren’t possible.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Are you working on any meaningful non profit projects?
I started out co-founding an open mic called The Relative Pitch , for young performers, aged 0 to 18. In addition to providing a forum for the kids to perform, Kim Arrington (my co-founder) and I would provide professional mentoring for the kids. I ended up working with several privately for years. From there, I started working with a wonderful organization in Durham (my home), called Walltown Children’s Theater. I fell in love with the kids, the owner, and the other teachers. Everyone gives so much and it’s infectious. My work there combines my love of my community, kids, and the arts. I teach a songwriting class and held my first young songwriter’s camp this past summer. Next came WeAreSeeds.net. Motherhood is what prompted me to start the blog in July 2017. I wondered how I could contribute positivity to the increasingly negative public discourse. I thought, if we as adults can’t wrap our minds around what’s happening, imagine how confusing it must be for children? The name was inspired by a Mexican proverb that states: They tried to cut us down, they didn’t know we were seeds. It features articles, videos, quotes, interviews, and cartoons curated by myself aimed at how to equip our children for the very adult social issues they face these days. I am now working on turning the blog into a podcast in 2018 and eventually into a charity. I believe that if we teach our children empathy, they will be wonderful, caring adults.
Yitzi: Wow! Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
Between the open mic and my classes, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really talented and awesome young people. This summer we ended the camp with a showcase for the parents and I seriously cried when I listened to some of the songs. So many kids just want to be heard and this was their chance to say things they never had the nerve to. It was inspiring.
I’m in the early stages of the blog so I haven’t changed any lives just yet but I’ve had several readers reach out and thank me for helping them find resources to discuss touchy subjects with their children. One mother in particular was trying to explain racism to her 6 year old daughter. She found a book on the site called and used it to facilitate the conversation.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
This is a great question…ok.
1) Always maintain the mindset of an independent: After I left my record company, I spent two years just trying to get my mojo back. I was so used to have a PR person, a manager, a label, etc., to do the work for me. I had to get back into hustle mentality. My advice, even if you have a lot of help, make sure you are always planning and thinking ahead for yourself.
2) Don’t’ read the comment section: Just don’t. You will always get your feelings hurt. I learned that the hard way. I googled myself once in 2007 to find a particular article and ended up spending an hour reading random strangers pull my talent, personal life, and looks apart. I was crushed and extremely naïve, I had no idea people could be so cruel.
3) Always let your work/deeds speak for you: Just put your head down and do the work. It will get noticed; cream rises to the top. One of my biggest regrets is that at the beginning of my career, all my press focused on race and overshadowed my talent.
4) Remember your roots: We all start at the bottom…remember that. When someone comes to you for advice, give it. Be the person you were hoping to meet when you were starting out.
5) Be kind: Your reputation, good and bad, proceeds you. Remember that.
Yitzi: Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.
It’s a toss up between Ava DuVernay and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Between Ava’s movies and docs, and Ta-Nehisi’s books, I have been getting my fix of history and knowledge. I’m a documentary and book nerd and these two are dominating right now, in my opinion. I admire their fearlessness and the unapologetic nature of their art. As an artist I strive to be both of those traits. Plus I’d love to get a song on Queen Sugar :-)
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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.