Johnson City artist Amythyst Kiah reflects on her Grammy-nominated song

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Amythyst Kiah only needs to sing a few notes, and you can understand why the Johnson City artist is nominated for a Grammy. When nominations were announced last week, the artist was traveling on tour, and didn’t see it coming.

“I woke up, I slept in a little bit later, and I opened my phone,” she said. “There was a gazillion notifications. I’m like, ‘What’s happening?’ ‘What’s going on?'”

She soon saw her name listed under the ‘Best American Roots Song’ category, for her original song ‘Black Myself.’

“It’s been a song, again, that I never thought I’d write. To see how far it’s going, to see how many lives it’s impacted and changed, it means a lot,” Amythyst said. “When you are able to deliver such a difficult message via music, it causes people to take a deep breath, and really just process what’s being said, as opposed to either fighting back or getting really upset.”

The artist said she wrote it in about a day. ‘Black Myself’ is a stomping anthem – referencing the slave trade, brown paper bag tests, and historical prejudice against the black community playing the banjo. 

LISTEN TO AMYTHYST KIAH’S GRAMMY-NOMINATED SONG IN FULL:

“For a long time, the idea of a black person playing the banjo seemed ridiculous, it seemed out of place, but history tells us that it doesn’t,” Amythyst said.

Amythyst’s songs reclaim the instrument and Americana-roots music as something for her and anyone willing to listen. ‘Black Myself’ was released as part of her role in Our Native Daughters, a music group of four black women telling their stories through the folk music they love.

“It’s re-iterating that this is an American story that shouldn’t be chalked off as ‘This is something for black people.’ This is something meant for everybody, a story for all of us to hear and share, because we’re all human,” she said.

The Grammy nomination has been a long time in the making for the 32-year-old. Amythyst began playing guitar in her bedroom at 13. Her passion for playing bluegrass-style guitar came as she studied in ETSU’s music program.

Her father, Carl Phillips, will never forget the moment he realized his daughter had a gift. At her mother’s funeral, 17-year-old Amythyst came forward and performed an original song.

Amythyst and father Carl

“Here I was, an adult, and couldn’t talk, so deep with grief,” said Carl. “And this young person wrote lyrics, and played guitar. It was a very, very touching moment when that happened.”

To this day, Carl is his daughter’s biggest fan, helping manage and drive her across the country for tours. 

“I used to be scared to death to get onstage and perform in front of people. It would terrify me,” Amythyst said. “My dad, he was the guy in my ear who kept reminding me, ‘You have talent, you could really go somewhere with this.'”

The artist has been going a lot of places lately. From the Americana Music Honors & Awards in Nashville, to performing with Hozier at the Newport Folk Festival, to filling Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater with her powerhouse vocals.

A new Amythyst Kiah album is slated for release next spring. The artist has no plans to rest on her first Grammy nomination. 

“This kind of recognition means there’s so much more for me to do, and so much more for me to learn and grow from,” she said. “This is just the beginning of more things.”

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