Chris Paul Thompson
Jocelyn "Jozzy" Donald
Music history was made last night at the Country Music Awards, with an assist from an up-and-coming Memphis artist and songwriter. The CMA for Musical Event of the Year, often given to one-off collaborations, was awarded to Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus for their smash hit, "Old Town Road (Remix)". It was also an indirect tip of the hat to Memphis-born Jocelyn "Jozzy" Donald, who wrote the verses Cyrus sang in the newer, extended version of the song.
The award not only went to Cyrus and Lil Nas X, the first openly gay hip-hop artist to win in that category, but also to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross — both have a co-writing and co-production credit on "Old Town Road (Remix)" due to its sample of "34 Ghosts IV" by Nine Inch Nails. There was no official recognition of Donald, however.
Nevertheless, this is a watershed moment for a track that occupied the top of the Billboard charts for a record-setting 17 weeks this year. Because of its blend of styles, not to mention the unspoken racial politics of contemporary American music, it was excluded from Billboard's country charts, amid much public outcry. To some extent, this newly-awarded CMA makes amends for that slight. As Lil Nas X told USA Today
, "I'm so happy this song was accepted because it is the bridging of two polar opposite genres. I'm happy it's gotten respect from both places."
I reached out to Jozzy to hear her thoughts on this latest success of a track in which she played no small role.
Memphis Flyer: Congratulations on the CMA! Are you in Memphis now?
: I just left Memphis yesterday. I went to the Stax Music Academy to talk to the kids. I didn't go to the CMA, but I'm definitely going to the Grammys. It's gonna be a great day. It's the day after my birthday. That's not coincidental. I believe everything happens for a reason. I know it's gonna be a great birthday.
Old Town Road really has a shot at Record of the Year. We need more of those coming out of Memphis. I just realized, "Uptown Funk" was the first ever Grammy for Record of the Year that went to a Memphis recording.
Yeah! Boo Mitchell! Royal Studios!
So you didn't go to the Country Music Awards?
I did not go to the Country Music Awards. They treat songwriters so bad. The Grammys are really the only awards that appreciate the songwriter. So I didn't get to go to the CMAs. It's a shame how they do it. But if you want that, you have to get into that mode of being the artist and being in the forefront. That's what I'm working on right now.
Do you think it's a sign of progress that the CMAs gave "Old Town Road" some recognition?
Yes. I'm just really happy it got the award, you know? After all that happened to the song, when it came to the country charts. I'm happy that CMA acknowledged it, and didn't just throw it on the back burner and act like it never happened. So, mostly it was really dope.
The thing about it is, at the end of the day, it's people like you all at the Memphis Flyer
, who tell the story, so it doesn't go unnoticed — that's really what it's all about. I could rant and rave about it, but then you just get tired. And I see myself going somewhere, doing something as an artist. I know I'm gonna be a big artist. So this is a part of that story.
Everyone in town is blown away that you co-wrote "Old Town Road," and the news is spreading.
Exactly. Word of mouth is beautiful. And the Grammys are a different story, you know. That's the biggest platform. So as long as I'm going to the Grammys, I'm fine.
Now I'm working on doing something with Red Bull in Memphis, probably in January, during Grammy week. We're gonna do a dope event. I just did a few gigs with Summer Walker, a dope R&B singer that I opened up some California shows for. I'm dropping my next single in December, and dropping a bigger project a week before the Grammy Awards. So it's gonna be dope.
I think Red Bull is the perfect partner to do it with. They're really invested in Memphis and they really wanna see something happen. So I really wanted to collaborate with them. I think we're gonna do a concert and a party. I might bring on some other artists to perform, too. We're trying to bring some fun stuff to Memphis, some different stuff that's never been done before.