A Brief History on Black Artists in Country Music and the Ones Who Are Carrying Their Legacy Forward
Country Music has always been home to Black artists, says Time Magazine, However, in recent years that has not proven to be the case. Ken Burns, American filmmaker, released a 16-hour documentary series, Country Music, in 2019. In it he discusses how genres like rock, jazz, pap and every facet of country, is indebted to African-American traditions. Burns says, “Commercial decisions by white industry executives led to their exclusion from the genre for decades.”
Religious hymnals, field songs and slave spirituals were incredibly influential in the early beginnings of country music. Many songs arranged by black people were later turned into hit songs sung by white artists. For example, a black minister wrote a hymn, “When the World is On Fire” which was then turned into the Carter Family’s hit, “Little Darling, Pal of Mine.” James A. Bland, a black New Yorker, penned the song, “Carry Me Back To Old Virginny” which later on became the official state song of Virginia. Had he been alive in 1940 when it became the official state song, he would not have even been welcome in the state.
Despite deep segregation in the South in the 20’s and 30’s, black and white musicians collaborated on many now famous recordings. Jimmie Rodgers and Louis Armstrong both became legends who’s influence would continue for generations to come. Despite their obvious differences, when they performed “Blue Yodel Number 9” it was obvious that their passion and love for country music came from the same place.
DeFord Bailey was a country and blues star from the 1920’s to 1941. Bailey accomplished many “firsts'' in country music for African-Americans. He was the first performer to be introduced on the Grand Ole Opry, the first African-Americon on the show, and the first performer to have music recorded in Nashville. Even with these many accomplishments, his race was still hidden from his radio audience and was forced to find separate accommodations when touring through the South with the Grand Ole Opry. After being fired by the founder of the Opry, it took the Opry another half century to admit the second black member, Charley Pride. Darius Rucker is the only other black member of the Grand Ole Opry.
“It’s truly surreal because I've listened to Charley Pride since I was a kid. When I was a little kid in the early '70s and Charley's making these records, I remember having a Charley Pride record in my mom's collection that I don't think my mom ever put on, but she bought that record because he was a Black man singing country music...I remember the first time I saw Charley on Hee Haw because Hee Haw was so big for me because I love music and one of the three places you could see musical on TV was Hee Haw. It was Hee Haw, American Bandstand and Soul Train. That's where you saw music on TV and here comes this guy that looks like me singing "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'" and you're like, "Oh my goodness,"...and now, decades and decades later, to be a part of him getting an award... There's nobody that deserves it more than Charley," says Rucker on sharing the stage with Pride.
Mickey Guyton, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, Rissi Palmer, Reyna Roberts, and Brittney Spencer are just a few of the current artists who represent the progressive Black country movement. The Boot says, “These performers making country music that paints within, but without, the lines established by the white, but borrowed-from-Black, country music norm allows for the navigation of the new sonic terrain...Black artists deserve to reclaim - and then yes, ultimately share - the instruments, inspiration and influence ‘borrowed’ from them for 100+ years.” Paying tribute to the Black artists of the past is essential for Black integration in present day Country music.
Written by Haley Moloney with contributions from Marcus K. Dowling, Rissi Palmer, and Shelley Hamilton.
Join Nashville Music Equality on February 9th for an in-depth discussion from board members of Nashville Music Equality on how they see the best way to move the Nashville Music Culture forward and how you can help create an anti-racist environment in Nashville. Hear from them on what they have learned in 2020 and what they are working on for 2021 and beyond.
Brooke Eden is hiding no longer, announcing her relationship with longtime girlfriend Hilary Hoover and the release of “No Shade” coming February 5th.
Eden took to social media saying, “I started by posting pictures of us without captions. Then started using vague words to describe who she was to me. Finally, a little over a year ago, I got comfortable enough to tell y’all who she really is Hilary Hoover - the love of my life. The journey hasn’t been easy, but our love always has. This is just the beginning of us sharing our story. Now, almost all of my songs about her, and you’ll get to hear some very soon.” A fan of Eden’s since the release of “Act Like You Don’t in 2016, we couldn’t be happier she’s sharing her authentic self. “No Shade” is part of her three-part reintroduction, each of the three tracks will be released in the coming month and will feature glimpses into her musical and personal journey. Brooke is ready to break barriers and standout with punchy tracks that exude self-confidence and acceptance.
Pre-order “No Shade” here.
Americana artist, Lilly Winwood, showcases her talent with the release of her debut album, Time Well Spent, out today. Winwood gives a glimpse into her personal experiences with her wise beyond her years writing. Her rootsy voice is the perfect compliment as she explores coming of age themes of going through finding love, making mistakes, waiting for karma to catch up and discovering her true self. Listeners will be able to find themselves throughout the album. “I'm excited to share these songs with you that I have been working on for so very long. I hope that they speak to you and take you on a journey of your own,” says Winwood.
With the first single off Time Well Spent, Winwood was able to start making a name for herself. This past December, the music video for “Few More Records'' entered into rotation on CMT’s CMT Edge. This is just the beginning for Windwood.
This record was produced by Alex Munoz and Allen Thompson in Nashville, Tenn. at High Cotton Recording Studio. For more information visit www.lillywinwood.org.
Singer-songwriter and student Olivia Ooms navigates the uncertain times in the release of her new single “Hideaway.” Co-written with friend Gabby Neely, “Hideaway,” is a reflection of her maturity as she learns to trust the process. Olivia sharing, “It’s about me finally understanding that there are things in life that I can’t control. Whatever is meant to be in my life is going to happen, and everything is going to work out.” Olivia’s powerful vocals tied with a mix of jazz and country make the track irresistible.
The Huntington Beach native has formally opened for numerous popular acts such as Lady A and Old Dominion as well as country music icon Tanya Tucker. In 2019, Ooms was invited to perform on the Spotlight Stage during CMA Fest and also made her debut at the historic Ryman Auditorium. Despite her many accomplishments, Olivia reminds herself that “you can never be overdressed or overeducated” and will continue to push herself forward as she enters her college years.
Look out for more from Olivia on her website https://www.oliviaooms.com.
Author: Nicole Marchesi