After singing the national anthem at the Kentucky Derby, country music star Brittney Spencer jumped at the chance to perform for Preakness weekend, eager to return to the city that molded her into the artist she is today.
“I’ve traveled the world singing music and there’s no place like Baltimore,” Spencer, who now lives in Nashville, said. “I know that Baltimore has made me.”
“This is going to be great,” Spencer, 33, exclaimed. “I think [audiences] can expect to feel the love for my hometown and I think they can expect to have a good time.”
The rising country music star has come a long way from wowing audiences in singing competitions as a schoolgirl.
Her trajectory into country music was not linear. She grew up singing in her church choir, but said her musical foundation was laid at Carver Center for Arts and Technology, where she attended high school and majored in music. A friend introduced her to songs by Dixie Chicks (now known as The Chicks) after church one Sunday and she was immediately intrigued by the country music genre. Spencer said she started listening to Baltimore’s local country radio station and was hooked.
“I’m listening to WPOC and I’m singing Dixie Chicks all the time, and then I’m singing in church. It inspired me,” she said.
Before she was known for songs such as “Sober & Skinny,” and for her performance last year at the Country Music Awards honoring the Crown Act — the federal legislation against hair discrimination, Spencer performed at bars, cafes and open mics around Baltimore. The singer’s diverse training and experience shaped how she approaches her music.
“Baltimore was a place with no limits. There were no musical borders. I could do anything,” Spencer said. “I bring that to country music, where it’s always going to be country, but it might sound like country and church, it might sound like country and soul, it might sound like country and pop, it might sound like country and rock. And all of that is because I grew up in Baltimore.”
Spencer also attributes her work ethic, which led to various jobs before becoming a full-time artist, to the hustle she developed growing up.
“I worked at Johns Hopkins. I worked in customer service. I worked at Marie Louise Bistro while I was living in Mount Vernon. I’ve been a barista. I’ve worked for so many temp agencies,” she said. “So much of who I am, so much of the grind and grit, so much of the musical passion I have comes from Baltimore.”
Her passion for the city also includes annual events like Preakness, which she credits for her love of horses.
“I remember…driving past Preakness, seeing horses and hearing about them all the time in Baltimore,” said Spencer, who often visited family members in the Park Heights area. “I think it definitely inspired my love for [horses]. There’s something about knowing that it’s in your city, that can kind of shape your interests at times.”
1/ST Experience, the entertainment group behind Preakness Live and the 147th Preakness Stakes, tapped Baltimore native and music mogul Kevin Liles to curate Preakness Live.
Liles called on Spencer to bring Baltimore pride with a country music flair.
“Brittney Spencer is a Baltimore born and raised, African-American country artist. I’m blessed to actually see her,” said Liles, CEO and chairman of 300 Entertainment and Elektra Music Group.
“Part of the curation is bringing this cool kind of homecoming experience and bringing some of Baltimore back to pay homage to their home city, and then utilize them to tap into some of the other great artists in the community — and so Brittney is definitely part of that list,” said Jimmy Vargas, CEO of 1/ST Experience,
Participating in Preakness is an exciting moment for the singer since she expects to reunite with some of her favorite Baltimore acts and previous performance partners.
“I’m looking forward to hearing Darin Atwater and The Soulful Symphony. I actually sang with Soulful Symphony once at the Hippodrome, so this is such a full circle moment,” she said.
The country music artist will also be doing a bit of fan-girling herself, noting a lineup that includes chart-topping acts Megan Thee Stallion and Lauryn Hill.
“I love Megan Thee Stallion, I haven’t met her yet and I haven’t seen her live yet, so this is as exciting for me as it is for everybody else — to have this energy being brought to the city for the first time,” she said.
After Preakness Live, Spencer’s current schedule doesn’t bring her back to the Baltimore region until she tours with Willie Nelson at Merriweather Post Pavilion in September. Despite her music taking her all over the world, she still has some musical dreams she’d love to fulfill in her hometown.
“I really want to meet Laurie DeYoung,” she said, referring to the morning radio show host for 93.1 WPOC, the local country music radio station.
“Listening to her in the mornings on the way to school, it was so good for me growing up,” Spencer said. “I know I don’t have songs on the radio yet, but if they would ever let this Baltimore girl come to WPOC and get to talk to Laurie DeYoung and play my songs that would really be a dream come true.”