- Country trio Chapel Hart made their Grand Ole Opry debut on Saturday night.
- The Poplarville, Mississippi-based band finished 5th on the 17th season of “America’s Got Talent.”
Sometimes liners that look silver are platinum instead.
It’s the best way to start recounting the nearly decade-long road to stardom for Chapel Hart, the Poplarville, Mississippi-based country trio.
The trio of sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and their cousin, Trea Swindle, could have made their Grand Ole Opry debut in Nashville on Saturday night as the winners of the 17th season of NBC’s television singing show “America’s Got Talent”.
They could also have been – given the nature of “America’s Got Talent” as a star-making platform – seen as pop’s answer to the country’s revived moment in pop music, as well as an attempt answer to the question of why black women have been absent from so many mainstream country music histories, and how to fix it.
To put it bluntly, they would have been the lucrative pop punchline to ask the question, “What if Beyonce, Mary J. Blige and Lizzo got into a honky-tonk?”
However, this did not happen. Instead, and for many reasons, how and why they finished fifth in the just-concluded season is the first platinum lining that sets them up for potentially incredible country music stardom.
On the surface, the idea that they’re selling a black female R&B superpower band landing in country music seems like what they’re doing. However, look beyond their skin color and get swept up in the essence of their overwhelming charisma in person. The lesson that short-sighted definitions fail to adequately note who they are and what they can potentially accomplish is quickly learned.
“We’re as country as the day is long,” trio member Trea Swindle told The Tennessean. “It’s not the twang but the truth that defines this. I love listening to Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams while wearing my cowboy boots and sitting on the porch with my guitar.”
“As people, we are kind and know that because of who we are and how we were raised, you don’t have to agree or believe the same things to exist. together,” Danica Hart said.
The trio’s country roots dominated the race on “America’s Got Talent”
During their two-month run in front of an estimated 20 million people nationwide on “America’s Got Talent,” the band’s obvious country roots and rambunctious personalities dominated the program.
They auditioned with “You Can Have Him, Jolene,” a sly lyrical twist on Dolly Parton’s 1974 classic “Jolene.” Notably, the track wasn’t expertly commissioned to curry favor with domestic audiences. Instead, it was an unlikely year-long boutique favorite of intelligentsia corners nationwide, from their 2021 release “The Girls Are Back In Town” – their second independent album in three years.
The regional success of their 2020 single “Jesus and Alcohol” (which featured ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons – an early Chapel Hart supporter – “showed us that established artists were willing to give us a shot”) led to them being named members of CMT’s Next Women of Country Class of 2021. This acclaim prompted them to enter the studio to redouble their efforts to complete their album.
Unlike their previous work, they eventually traveled to Nashville to complete the recording. The trio wanted to emulate something aural between ZZ Top’s catalog and a pair of favorite Nashville hits from 2004: Big and Rich’s “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” and Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman.”
Parton was not alerted to the 2021 debut. However, after the four judges of the 2022 season of “America’s Got Talent” – Simon Cowell, Terry Crews, Howie Mandel and Sofia Vergara – pressed the golden buzzer, noting that they thought the band should be sent straight to live broadcasts, Parton tweeted, “What a fun new version of my song, @ChapelHartBand!”
“I could have died happy on the spot,” Danica Hart says of the moment she saw Parton’s message.
The last two months have seen the band continue to find success via the TV program, including support from Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker and Wilson.
“Women outlaws support women outlaws. It’s the ultimate validation,” says Danica Hart.
“The women who created country music’s quintessential foundation have said they’re behind us,” Swindle says of their powerful recent co-signatures.
However, on the September 13 “America’s Got Talent” finale, the band performed “American Pride,” a new ballad. The performance was rife with vocal issues, which Cowell and Mandel attributed to nerves and pressure. However, musical impresario Cowell added, “I really, really love you and I’m really glad you did what you did tonight. Good for you.”
Finishing fifth on AGT proved to be a platinum liner.
The country music superstar heralded by the success of TV singing programs is a generational trend. Kelly Clarkson, Scotty McCreery and Carrie Underwood won “American Idol”. Cassadee Pope won “The Voice”. However, none of them were celebrated by having a week named after them in their hometown or greeted by a Proto holographic version of Tanya Tucker on national television.
Even if Chapel Hart didn’t win the 17th season of “America’s Got Talent,” they may have earned something more important in return: the gracious and unapologetic respect of the genre’s predominantly white fan base regarding the acceptance of black women as superstar level entertainers. .
“It will always make me cry”
After country icon Jeannie Seely introduced Chapel Hart on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, they received three standing ovations.
It was made all the more special because one in three people backstage at the venue on Saturday night was a member of the Hart or Swindle variety family. Danica and Devynn’s tall, stately preacher father, Kevin Hart (“If you find this little guy, tell him he owes me money,” he joked), discussed “anointed blessings voices of his family as he was dressed in a western shirt highlighted with black and silver roses, black cowboy hat, turquoise studded bolo tie, black boot cut jeans and white alligator print cowboy boots.
The trio took the stage to a rock star reaction. Yes, many of those present were residents of Poplarville, Mississippi. However, as usual at the Opry, others were elderly vacationers, generations of hardcore country music fanatics, or Nashville proponents of the genre frequenting one of its signature venues.
Winning over this crowd – a group of people who have been watching every conceivable manner of country music for 97 years – is quite an achievement. Convince them three times, to raucous and deafening applause? It is special.
Danica Hart’s raspy lead vocals are surprisingly warm. Baritone vocals in country music have made a long list of male stars famous. A deep twang helps Hart’s contralto. It’s unmistakable, intriguing and sonically pleasing in equal measure. The absence of an absolute need for gospel-style vocal gymnastics or shouted lyrics from Devynn Hart and Trea Swindle adds to their presentation. Plus, add the trio’s wild, free, and deep Southern charisma, underpinned by an unwavering belief in faith and family. Overall, the accessible yet exciting nature of how they perform their art separates them from previous presentations of black artists at this level of country music. This makes it a very unique game changer in the genre industry.
“Of course, we had success before ‘America’s Got Talent’, but now we realize that to achieve the much greater success we want, it is necessary to expand the scope of joy and love that our music I will never get tired of seeing the process of winning more fans into bigger bands continue,” Devynn Hart said. “One thing though, it’s gonna make me cry. It’s always gonna make me cry.”
About one in 10 attendees at the 4,400-seat Grand Ole Opry attended what turned into an autograph signing and hug fest after the event at the honkytonk/Nashville Palace nightclub across the street from the Opry. People who went to high school with the band and drove 500 miles from Poplarville were there. Moreover, black fans of the genre elated to see themselves on stage – again, lately – at the Opry giggled in excitement. Fans of the band from several states also lined up for four hours on a Saturday night at a bustling Music City watering hole. In terms of atmosphere, it was as much like a music industry event as it was a potluck after Sunday afternoon worship.
Next up for Chapel Hart is an Oct. 8 return to the venue for the Grand Ole Opry’s 97th anniversary celebration. Plus, Darius Rucker’s longtime partnership (discussed in this June 2022 Tennessean feature) with Chapel Hart for a single on his upcoming latest album is also likely.
“We got our foot in the door and now we’re rushing out onto the pitch,” Swindle said. “Once you play with us, you’re stuck with us.”
She then made a poignant statement and added another joke.
“We want to bring real country music back to country radio. I will also suggest that we need a defibrillator added to our tour pilot. If we keep getting standing ovations like this, it could kill me. have to drag myself by my ankles off the stage every night.”