Miko Marks ignores obstacles on her steady climb

Friday, June 12, 2009 at 2:40pm

Singer/songwriter Miko Marks’ career has been steadily ascending since her debut release Freeway Bound was named “Country Album of the Year” at the Independent Music Awards in 2006.

She’s done heralded videos with such stars as Erykah Badu and D’Wayne Wiggins, but has made significant inroads as an indie artist in a field where label connections and support often prove the difference between languishing in obscurity for decades and getting access to radio airplay and top tunes from song pluggers.

But there’s another thing that distinguishes Miko Marks, who will be appearing Saturday night at 7 at the Wild Beaver Saloon (212 Commerce Street, no cover, 255-0032) as part of this year’s CMA Music Festival.

Marks is one of the emerging African-American female country performers alongside Rissi Palmer and Rhonda Towns.

Each has a different sound and look, but they all know the long odds that face them. Only three African-Americans have enjoyed sustained success in country. They were Hall-of-Famers Deford Bailey and Charlie Pride, as well as innovative stylist Ray Charles. Some others like Big Al Downing, Stoney Edwards and O.B. McClinton enjoyed period hits, but never became established superstars.

“I truly feel the fact there hasn’t really be a big country star among black females is just one of those things,” Marks said. “For me, it was never that big an issue in terms of singing country. It was the genre that worked best due to my desire to tell stories in songs and to explore specific issues and perspectives.”

The path has been even tougher for black females. Some wonderful vocalists such as Ruby Falls and Linda Martell encountered tough times within the genre despite their prominent voices.

“I think that country audiences understand and know real music and honesty and they respond to that, not skin color,” Marks said. “I’m confident that it’s just a question of getting good songs, getting out in front of people and continuing to improve and things will take care of themselves. I’ve never believed that you can’t make it as a country artist because of color.”

Marks began singing at an early age while growing up in Michigan. At various times in her developmental period she did other styles, particularly folk, but soon discovered that country best fit both her earnest, bluesy delivery and her desire to write truthful, highly personal numbers about her life and times.

“I’ve done other types of music, but country always attracted me, especially in terms of songwriting,” she said.

Her most recent release It Feels Good includes a hard-hitting number about male duplicity (“Double Dog Cheater”) and an equally demonstrative piece about pain and disappointment in a relationship (“Broken Heart’). But Marks’ booming, crystal-clear and rangy voice can be celebratory, and she shows on “It Feels Good” and “So Much Love” that she’s just as memorable when the lyrical flow and direction take a positive turn.

While she likes the traditional country approach, Marks doesn’t rule out any option in terms of her future musical releases.

“I might try doing some more contemporary things or even working in folk or jazz arrangements down the line. I’m a music lover, but country is my first choice,” she said. “I’m thrilled by the success that Darius (Rucker) is having right now (two consecutive number one country singles) and by the impact that people like Rissi and Rhonda are making. We’re in an era now where anything is possible, and I couldn’t be more upbeat and optimistic about my chances for success in the country marketplace.”