Country Music Songwriter
Alice Randall was first black woman to write a winning country song
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
Alice Randall is an accomplished writer in more ways than one. She has published three novels, written screenplays, and was the first African-American woman to write a number one country song. The song is "XXX's and OOO's: An American Girl," which she composed with Matraca Berg and was recorded by Trisha Yearwood. The song spent two weeks at the top of the Billboard country singles chart in September 1994. She recently spoke with the Scholastic Kids Press Corps in Nashville, Tennessee, about her experiences as a writer.
Randall didn’t at first realize that she was the first African-American woman to write a top of the charts country song.
"I didn’t assume I was the first," she said. "I thought that someone before me had done it."
Although it was exciting to be the first, she wasn’t all that happy about it.
"When I heard that [I was first] on some level, I was sad," she said. "African-Americans have had so much influence on country music—banjos, trading of solos, blues."
Randall has gone on to write more than 20 country songs, which have been recorded by artists like Trish Yearwood. Her songs often reflect the history of her people, such as "The Ballad of Sally Anne," about a lynching. She wrote about slavery and the Confederate dead in "I’ll Cry For Yours, Will You Cry For Mine?”
Randall doesn’t limit herself to country music, however. She also writes novels and screenplays—and each type of writing, she says, is good for its own purpose.
"Each of them allows for different things," she said. "Novels are good for observing the interior psychology of a character. Films are good for the external, and for actions. Songs are best for abstract, emotional language."
Being skilled at each of the genres helps her as a writer.
"Knowing how to write songs, novels, and screenplays… when there's something I want to write about, I can pick the most apt genre for the message I want to get across," she said.
Each format also has its own challenges.
"Although a song is much shorter, I think it’s harder to be brilliant at writing a song," she said.
That doesn’t mean that it takes longer, though.
"Often extraordinary songs are written in a day, a few weeks, or a month, at the most," Randall told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps. "I think that the preparation of the song is much harder. Your message must be accessible to a wide audience. It's harder, but quicker."
Regardless of what shape their writing takes, she has some important advice for kids who want to write.
"Read a lot. Keep lots of notes on your writing. Jot down phrases, ideas, words that you like, and notice what makes other people's language different from yours," she said.
She also advocates writing in different styles.
"I've seen a lot of interesting styles of writing come up recently, like novels in text messages or Facebook posts, " she said. "Don't limit yourself to one structure. Most importantly: tell yourself that you are a writer. Everyone is capable of being a writer."
CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH
For more on the achievements and contributions of African Americans to U.S. History, return to the Scholastic Kids Press Corps' Black History Month Special Report.
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