Honoring Linda Martell

At the 2021 CMT Awards, industry pioneer Linda Martell will receive the 2021 CMT Equal Play Award. It is a long overdue acknowledgement of Martell’s historical importance. The award comes soon after the announcement by Martell’s granddaughter, Marquia Thompson, that a documentary about Martell’s career and experience in Nashville is in the works. We recently spoke with Thompson about how the documentary came about and what it meants to Thompson, Martell, and her family. 

Trailor For The Upcoming Documentary, "The Story of Linda Martell"

A Conversation With Marquia Thompson

Holly G: Tell me about what led to you deciding to create a documentary about your grandmother, Linda Martell.

 

Marquia Thompson: It started just as something that’s been happening in my family since my mom interviewed my great grandmother, her grandmother. Just to kind of know more about them coming up. They would tell stories that were really inspiring to us. My mom started filming my great-grandmother, who’s still living. She’s 103 this year. It kind of started that way. Then, you know, just a few years ago I just started thinking about the whole “woke movement “ and you know grandma, my grandmother Linda, she’s always got a lot of fan mail and journalists reaching out here and there. Not the way it’s been lately but consistently over the years. Just a few years ago it kind of ticked up a little bit. So, I started thinking maybe I could turn it into something more. Then the idea that typically an outside source would do something like this, which is fine but that outside source benefits from that. My grandmother is 80 so it’s not like her doing interviews is going to put her name out there in a way that she can go tour or anything. I just thought maybe I could do something that would turn into her having something of her own. The documentary is hers, its her story. That’s what triggered it, and we got a lot of support.

 

Holly G: I love that the story will be told by you, someone with a close relationship to the story. Do you remember how old you were when you first realized that your grandmother had an important history within the music history?

 

Marquia Thompson: I don’t know that I remember how old I was, I just feel like I’ve always known. Even outside of country music, just locally where we grew up, she couldn’t walk in the store without people coming after her. Outside of Nashville, as a singer, as a person; people have always gravitated to her. I guess it didn’t really hit us when we realized she was singing in Nashville in the late 60s and 70s, because we were so used to people being crazy about her.

 

Holly G: Do you have a favorite story of yours that she tells.

 

Marquia Thompson: Usually my favorite stories, I don’t know that there’s a specific one, my favorites are just those that she talks about with them growing up with my great-grandparents. We come from a really big family and they were always so festive. There was always music. They all sang. Anything involving that, whether it was a story about her being scared to sing in church and her dad pushing her to do it, or just anything involving them coming up. They used to win concerts her and her siblings when they were coming up.

 

Holly G: So the whole family is musical then?

 

Marquia Thompson: Oh yeah. It kind of stopped at their generation. I’m probably musically inclined in other areas. I know good music when I hear it, but I could never sing.

 

Holly G: What is the one thing you’d like people to take away from this project about your grandmother when it’s completed?

 

Marquia Thompson: That outside of country music, she was somebody. I think people are starting to get it but I never heard her speak fondly of her experience in Nashville, So I kind of want them to see,  get a first-hand look at what exactly it was I know. She’s an inspiration to many and I think that’s so great. Rissi is amazing and I love that she always makes mention of her. I think I told her, watching her talking about her sometimes is like watching my cousins or my sisters talk about my grandma. I know my grandmother has inspired a lot of people I just want them to take a more truthful look at what it was like for her outside of her being a pioneer.

 

Holly G: Is she aware of the fact that now so many of us are rallying around Black people getting more visibility in country music and that she is kind of in the center of that movement?

 

Marquia Thompson: The way you just put it, I don’t know that she’s aware in that way but I share with her all the time stuff about Rissi. We have conversations where I tell her that there are people like Andrea Williams who’ve been advocating and writing about how still not much has changed and trying to make Black folks more visible in those spaces. When I talk to her its definitely enlightening, but I don’t think she quite has a grasp on it yet. In her mind based on her experiences and then at her age, I think its still kind of raw for her. The difference in treatment.

 

Holly G: It makes me sad that all this time has passed and she can’t go back and experience the things that we’re fighting for. I’m hoping that once the documentary comes out, maybe she can see and feel a little bit of the celebration that she should’ve felt back then. Hopefully that will get to her some way.

 

Marquia Thompson: That would be great. Its definitely part of the plan in terms of hope