Billboard Women in Music 'Powerhouse' Brittany Howard on Success: 'Maybe It Hasn't All Sunk In, or Maybe I'm Just In Shock'

Austin Hargrave

Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes photographed on Nov. 23, 2015 in Nashville.

As lead singer/guitarist of Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard, 27, has established herself as a mighty live performer -- a soul-baring vocalist with the delivery of a cyclone. In April, her Southern-rock band earned its first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with sophomore full-length Sound & Color, ­speeding up Howard's evolution from retro-blues rookie to wildly admired all-star. By August, the Georgia native was onstage at Lollapalooza with Paul McCartney, who invited her to join him on "Get Back." On Sept. 8, she ushered in The Late Show With Stephen Colbert as part of a musical ensemble that included Mavis Staples. In October, Howard paid tribute to Eddie Murphy by performing a duet of Sam Moore's "Hold On, I'm Comin' " with the R&B legend at the ­comedian's Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize ceremony.


Topping it all off, the success of Sound & Color brought Alabama Shakes' total album sales to more than 1 million copies, according to Nielsen Music. "My family's really proud," says Howard. "Maybe it hasn't all sunk in, or maybe I'm just in shock."

Women In Music 2015: The Billboard Shoot

Guest of Sir Paul
"I overprepared -- I wanted to do a really good job. I had blisters all over my fingers from playing solos over and over -- I didn't want to freak out and forget what I was doing. Then, it was easier than I thought -- the words were right there on the teleprompter. And he was so nice: 'Oh, Brittany, so glad you're here!' I felt so welcome. He made me laugh. It wasn't at all weird that he was a Beatle."

Her Lady Heroes
"Björk. Erykah Badu. Memphis Minnie. Nina Simone. The guitar player from Heart, Nancy Wilson. This badass drummer, Meytal Cohen."

Dinner With Dave Chappelle
"I met Dave Chappelle at Eddie Murphy's Kennedy Center ­ceremony. He took the time to invite me and my people out to dinner with all these famous comedians. He treated us all the same -- as he would Chris Rock. I was so impressed with that. I was like, 'Man, that's definitely how I want to be.' He's a cool dude."

The Music Business
“Instead of being discouraged by the music business, I feel really inspired: Now more than ever you can do whatever you want, and you'll find your audience, because everybody's connected. You can be as creative as you want to be and no one will say, 'No that won't sell.’ Nothing’s selling, so it doesn't matter."

Fishing in Eastern Europe
"You don't see any vacation ­packages for Poland, but it's really fun. They were so hungry for music. They were like, 'Thank you so much for coming here.' Meanwhile, I'm like, 'Thank you for coming -- I'm in Poland, I didn't think anybody would be here tonight.' The ­promoters took me fishing and I caught a rainbow trout -- and I'd never even seen a rainbow trout. Poland really won me over."

The Warrior Philosophy
"I've been reading this book called Thick Face, Black Heart. It's about being ruthless and getting things you want, but without harming anyone. I'm obsessed with it."

Advice to Girls Who Feel They're 'Different'
" 'Embrace that you're different. Don't you already know that you're going to be something wonderful because you already feel it?' I would also say, 'Being set apart is the best thing that could probably ever happen to you. It's probably the worst thing that could happen to you, but you have to embrace yourself — and it gets better from here.' "

That Presidential Election
"I don't give a f--! (Laughs.) You can write that down in capital letters."

2015 Highlights
Alabama Shakes became one of only eight female-fronted rock bands ever to top the Billboard 200
Notched three top 40 hits on the Hot Rock Songs chart
Reached No. 2 on the Triple A airplay chart with "Don't Wanna Fight"
Howard released debut LP with side project Thunderbitch

2015 Billboard Women in Music

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of Billboard.


The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to

To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.