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The Root of Country Music

Is it time for Black country artist to get their shine?

Grammy-winning country singer Allison Russell recently made headlines for not get the respect she deserves as an artist in the industry.

With so much talk about country music, I hope during Black History Month, we don’t forget that country music originated from Black people. Country music is deeply rooted in Black culture, coming straight from the South in the early 1800s, originating with blues and West African music traditions. Black artists are still out here doing their thing in the music industry – specifically the country sector, and I’m not only talking about the legendary Beyoncé and her recent bomb single drops.

I’m sure we all share the same sentiment when I say that, Beyoncé gave us all a run for our money when she announced a new country album, Renaissance: Act 2 during the Super Bowl. The album, which is to be released on 3/29, is a continuation of her Renaissance project, which began in 2022 with a dance-music-inspired album. Beyoncé’s new singles, “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages,” hit the nail on her versatility and talent as an artist as she blends country and R&B. Specifically in, “Texas Hold ‘Em” we hear the banjo played by folk star Rhiannon Giddens, which further lets the world know Black presence will always run deep no matter the genre.

Excitement aside, Beyoncé isn’t the only Black artist who is taking it upon herself to reclaim country music, a genre that often excludes and ignores Black contributions. Artists like Allison Russel, Lil Nas X, Darius Rucker, Brittany Spencer, Kane Brown, K Michelle, and Joy Oladokun are a few that come to mind.

The history of country music is intertwined with the history of Black music in America. An example is the instrument, we call the banjo. A descendant of West African lutes was brought here by enslaved Africans. The banjo became known for country music but was also appropriated by white performers during blackface shows. Many of America’s “country classics” were adapted from Black sources, like slave spirituals and field songs or from the works of Black singers and songwriters. The influence of Black artists on white countries has been nothing short of profound throughout the years.

Although the presence is strong, Black country artists have faced a plethora of barriers and challenges in the industry like racism, genre policing, and lack of representation. A prime example of this is Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” which, as USA TODAY reported, was removed from Billboard country charts in 2019 for not “embracing enough elements of today’s country music,” according to a company rep. Then there’s Mickey Guyton who was the first Black female solo artist to earn a Grammy nomination in a country category back in 2021. She still struggles to get airplay for her songs that address issues of sexism and racial injustice.

Despite these challenges, Back country artists have achieved and innovated in the genre. Charley Pride was the first Black member of Grand Ole Opry in 1993 and the second Black artist to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award in 1971. Breland fused country with trap and R&B in his viral hit “My Truck” in 2020, creating a new subgenre he calls “trailer trap”.

Black country music is nothing new, but deserves all of our recognition and respect. As you continue to celebrate BHM, let’s continue to celebrate Black artists who’ve continued to follow in our ancestor’s footsteps as the blueprint. Support a Black country artist today!

 

By Journey Powell, Freshman, Spelman College

Instagram: journeyaliah

 

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Written by Journey

Hiii, I’m Journey. I love to model and write poetry. My favorite movie series is Harry Potter.

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