Editor’s Note: In celebration of Women’s History Month, You Sing I Write is highlighting female country artists and songwriters throughout March.
Ashlie Amber grew up in Colorado with the dream of being a country star. Introduced to country music early on by the kids in her neighborhood, she fell in love with the voices of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and LeAnn Rimes.
Being the only Black family in the neighborhood, Amber is no stranger to the lack of diversity. When she decided to pursue country music in Colorado no one took her aspirations seriously.
“Everybody always asks me, ‘How did you start getting involved in country? You rock a huge frohawk and you’re not the typical look,’” she tells me. “Everybody was like, ‘What are we going to do with you? You should do R&B. You should do hip-hop. You should do this; you should do that.’ So, I naturally went where things took me.”
Amber began writing songs while in Colorado and was often referred to as “the hook queen.” She wrote hooks for the local rappers and sang on their songs, sometimes appearing at their shows in the area. By the time she was 19 she signed with an independent label, but it wasn’t the direction of music she wanted to go into. Admittedly lost, she walked away from the label deal.
A friend who played piano invited her over for a jam session one night and she began singing. Realizing Amber’s talent, her friend asked why she was working at TGI Fridays and urged her to try musical theater. “It’s always been a dream to be a recording artist and to make my own music and to do this side of things, but it just doesn’t seem like this side of the industry wants to accept me,” she recalls telling her friend. “She’s like, ‘Well, have you thought of musical theater? I think you have a calling for it. And, Colorado has a really good musical theater scene. You could get paid to perform right now.’”
After a few auditions Amber began working in musical theater which eventually led her to performing on cruise ships. One evening while headlining a Whitney Houston celebration on the Celebrity Edge cruise ship she met musician Don Gatlin of country duo Darryl & Don Ellis and the band Savannah Jack. Blown away by her performance, Gatlin approached the singer, and they discussed her aspirations for country music.
“I was like, ‘I’ve always wanted to be the Beyonce of country,’” she recalls. “He’s like, ‘That’s an incredible idea!’” The pair traded information and kept in touch. Two years later Amber was finally at a point where she wanted to give country music another try, so she picked up the phone and called Gatlin in February 2019. By April she was flying to Nashville to meet producer Jamie Tate.
For more of my interview with Ashlie Amber, visit Forbes. Her first release of 2021, “Those Nights,” is below.