Finding freedom through music is something that Miko Marks knows all too well. But it’s more than just freedom. It’s liberation. Deliverance. After living what seems to be multiple lives over, Miko has finally come into the life she was born to live. And she’s more than ready to live it to the fullest - one of truth, authenticity, vulnerability, joy and honesty. There’s a clip on YouTube that is quite striking. It’s an interview from a local Bay Area news channel featuring Miko Marks talking about her journey as a Black woman in country music. “For me, being a country music singer-songwriter, I’m truly dedicated to the work, so it’s an uphill battle, but it’s one I’m willing to climb.” That clip is from 2007. The conversations and the questions 15 years later, in 2022, are the same. Miko has answered them time and time again, but there’s more to her story than the barriers she bridles. She has more to give than the small confines of that one line of questioning. Miko’s life as a Black woman in country and roots music is only a small part of the story. As she readies her latest album, Feel like Going Home, for release (October 14, 2022 via Redtone Records), it’s beyond time to dig deeper.
Miko was born in Flint, Michigan, by a single mother, a free spirit; undoubtedly where Miko gets her fire for life. Along with being passionate about being a mother and instilling strength and independence in Miko, her mother also had a calling for fighting for equal rights for all. She would spend free time protesting on a local level in their town and would travel to Detroit for larger demonstrations, always looking to make a genuine connection with everyone she met, leaving the world better than she found it. This impacted Miko greatly as she grew and was pivotal in Miko finding her own voice. To provide for Miko, her mother would spend nights working 3rd shift at the automotive factory, while Miko’s grandmother would watch over her, helping raise her for most of her young life. For Miko, the women in her life were of utmost importance to her and their hopes and dreams for her were cautiously optimistic while being pragmatic due to the barriers they faced in their own lifetime. The path that Miko is on now would be almost unimaginable for women like her grandmother. Even still she was raised to rise. Miko reflects on the contributions of these women in “Good Life.” “My grandmother’s family came out of the south, working in cotton fields, struggling, looking for hope up north as so many did during the great migration. I wanted to describe that in song and praise her and my mother and my ancestors for their power, and to thank them for persevering so that I could have a good life.”
Miko was a mischievous child, oftentimes roping her neighbor cousins into illicit pranks. Since some of her many cousins and grandmother lived just a stone's throw away from the house she grew up in, Miko was constantly surrounded by love, and a love for music. Miko would enlist the help of her cousins to perform plays in the backyard. This is where her love for theater blossomed, which she participated in all through high school. When she wasn’t running around the neighborhood or performing in school or self-made plays, Miko was involved in girl scouts and church activities where music was a stronghold, traveling to Kentucky, Atlanta and Chicago for various church conventions. Miko and her family would pile into their family van for singing engagements with the church. They would sing and rehearse in the van and drive throughout the day and night to the conventions. These conventions developed Miko’s love for singing and she soon found herself auditioning for a special group at her school called The Madrigals. The style of music was classical, something she wasn’t familiar with, but was interested in learning because of its beauty and uniqueness from her gospel, soul, country, blues background. Being a part of The Madrigals took Miko onto singing at the famous Carnegie Hall in New York City, when she was just 15 years old. This flipped a switch for Miko in her primitive years, and the profound effect singing on that stage had on her would be imprinted on her forever, along with the great influence of several teachers, including her piano and vocal teachers who saw Miko’s light and pushed her to excellence. From then on, music wasn’t just something Miko was good at and enjoyed; it became a passion.
After graduating high school, Miko attended Grambling State University from 1990 to 1994, a historically black university that is steeped in history and has the slogan “Where everybody is somebody.” Miko got her degree in Political Science where she planned to go on to law school to become a criminal defense attorney; a conventionally safer career path than her dreams of a singing career, though she never let that dream die. The world felt wide open to her. This irrepressible feeling of having the world at her fingertips was undeniable. This is where she was wrestling, “Who is Miko Marks?” and “What kind of impact will I have on the world?”
After graduating from Grambling State University in Louisiana she married young and welcomed a beautiful baby boy - Justin - into their family, happily putting her law school dreams on hold to raise a family. Miko simultaneously built a house full of love and music while she focused on a rising career in country music in the early 2000s. Her talents and love for music were undoubtedly passed to her son who traveled with her to CMA Fest year after year in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Justin had unquestionably procured the gene of musical talent, performing with Miko at CMA Fest in 2007 at the Acoustic Corner. Here he impressed so many by his musical talents at the age of 11 that he was gifted a guitar by a local guitar brand. Her husband sold her merchandise. They were all in. During this early effort she released two albums - “Freeway Bound (2005)” and “It Feels Good” (2007). It was a family affair that was cut short. That’s the tiny piece of the story we’ve been told.
After her run at country music fame, she reshifted her focus and dove head first into being a mother and wife. After all, her son was young - she told herself it was a good time to be at home more and put her own dreams on the back burner. She could at least tell him she tried to achieve her dreams even if the barriers were too great to cross. She could invigorate his dreams and encourage his ability to climb higher than she was able to. She took on work as a legal secretary and spent the rest of her time doing school drop offs, running errands, making lunches and maintaining their home while her husband was a local firefighter. Her only musical outlet was the occasional cover gig - just to scratch the itch. She made up her mind that her dream of a career in music was far out of reach, but it’s impossible to silence a voice that was made for singing. It was through these local gigs that she became involved with the Bill Pickett Rodeo - an organization that celebrates and highlights Black Cowboys and Cowgirls and their contributions to building the west. She felt seen and at home. It was almost enough. In “This Time” Miko tells the story of this duality. “We’ve all been sold the fairytale over and over, that the goal of life is to find the perfect love. But life is bigger than that. A lot of songs sung by women that I was raised on were songs about falling apart when love fails. But that’s not a message I want to put out there, especially for young women. Your life is much bigger than love and romance. You can find joy and balance and contentment within yourself, in your own spirit.”
In late 2019, with her son mostly grown, she had a dream - a literal dream - about recording music again. She got in touch with two former bandmates that she had met through the cover gig circuit. Justin Phipps has just launched Redtone Records, a non-profit label whose mission is to preserve and strengthen arts, culture and community, and he happened to have a song that he thought would be perfect for Miko: “Goodnight America.” Steve Wyreman was a highly sought-after guitarist, writer and producer who proved to be harder to pin down, but Miko’s persistence prevailed. If they were going to do this, they were going to be all in. They aligned their schedules and met in East Palo Alto, CA at the Redtone Records studios and it was serendipitous from the start. From there, Our Country (March 26, 2021) was born. Miko had risen from the musical shadows she had been living in for the past decade.
Through the uncertainties of 2020, one thing remained constant for Miko and her cohorts, who fondly began referring to themselves as The Resurrectors: they had created something undeniable that the world needed to hear. Three musicians who had been brought back together after years of separate journeys, now vying to tell the stories they had buried deep inside them. They were restored to life. They had been revived and resurrected. “River” weaves this resurgence into the new record “The river can mean a lot of things. It’s always been such a strong and universal theme in song and poetry. It’s healing, it’s baptism, it’s crossing over, it’s cleansing, it’s rebirth. I’m calling out to the river to take me wherever it goes. Letting go and trusting it to take me where I need to be. Jumping in to escape whatever might be coming for me.”
Miko and team enlisted the help of Brooklyn Basement Records: a boutique marketing agency and record label whose mission is to give a voice to independent artists and others who need the help of a team to navigate releasing their record; for Miko, her passion project. They began rolling out singles in October of 2020 and by March, Miko proved to be making noise in the industry, with many anxiously awaiting the release of Our Country, the first album after Miko’s 13 year break from releasing new music. The Wall Street Journal described it as a “genre and industry-defying mission.” NPR declared it a “multilayered experience.” The New York Times commended the movement as carving out a new path in country music. Miko’s resurgence into music took an industry by storm as her unique sound deftly blends country, blues, southern rock and even gospel to create a sound and experience that has literally brought every audience to its feet. This new sound along with her warm and soulful spirit catapulted her into a community of change with her doing more than breaking ground - she’s shattering it. It’s a serendipitous realization that Miko’s was meant to be here, at this time, in this moment, for good.
While Miko’s return not only catapulted change and conversations within an entire industry, it also reignited a passion within her. This resurgence re-lit a fire that although had been dulled, was never fully extinguished. Once Miko and the Resurrectors began recording, they could not stop. By October of the same year, they were ready to release another collection of songs. This time, an EP called Race Records, which shined a light on the arbitrary divisions forced upon artists and audiences in the early days of music marketing in the 1940s. If Miko was going to be back, full hearted in music, she was going to speak her truth. She was going to write songs with messages she wants to spread and topics she wants to talk about. Fully honest, fully authentic. No longer trying to fit into a box that censors her. In January of this year, Miko was named to CMT’s Next Women of Country Class of 2022 and by April, she stood alongside five other artists and managers chosen to participate in the inaugural Equal Access Development Program, a program designed by mtheory and CMT to foster and support marginalized communities underrepresented in the genre of country music. Now more than ever, the change needed is beginning to come to fruition; a change Miko feared she wouldn’t bear witness to in her existence: “I get emotional around it, because I didn’t think I would see any of this in my lifetime,” Miko says.
Nearly one year after the release of Our Country, Miko released the first single, “Feel Like Going Home” (March 25, 2022) from her forthcoming project of the same name, due this fall. The lyrics sing, “Rest for the wanderer who never more shall roam.” For Miko, the time to reclaim her roots that were planted long ago is now; a powerful reconnection that can be felt in every note. No longer a wanderer, Miko has returned to her true self after years of trying to figure out her place in the world and in her first true love: music.
Feel Like Going Home is an amalgamation of where Miko has been and where she is going. What she has learned and what she wants to teach. It’s an innermost look at the ebb and flow of her past, present and future. It’s the stories she wants to tell but hasn’t been able to speak into existence ever before. The messages are profound: healing, restoration and distinctly individual. Feel Like Going Home released on October 14, 2022.