Considering the recent Nashville news regarding country singer, Morgan Wallen, we must be champions for Black voices now more than ever. Thankfully, a new generation of artists are making their voices heard and not standing for these blatant injustices. Mickey Guyton, the sole Black female signed to a major country label posted to Twitter in response to Wallen using a racial slur saying, “The hate runs deep. How many passes will you continue to give?” Later adding, “So what exactly are y’all going to do about it. Crickets won’t work this time.”
Immediately, radio broadcasters such as iHeartMedia, Cumulus, and Entercom pulled Wallen from rotation. He was also dropped from Country Music Television and removed from potential involvement or eligibility for the 56th ACM Awards cycle.
Mickey isn’t the only one speaking out. Cam, Maren Morris, Margo Price, Amanda Shires, and Rissi Palmer have also put in the work to amplify Black voices. A member of the ACM Diversity and Inclusion taskforce, Cam asks people to educate themselves on what it means to be a Black artist in country music telling the New York Times, “How is it that two white women even partially understand what the experience is like for Black people in country? It’s because we’re learning from Black women. We watched what’s going on with Mickey and talked to her.” Cam often uses her platform to share what she’s learned.
Rissi Palmer, is the host of Color Me Country Radio. Color Me Country was designed to share the history of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx influence in country music and spotlight the artists who are continuing their legacy. The show’s name comes from Linda Martell, the first Black woman to play the Opry, and her debut album “Color Me Country.” Palmer herself has had success when her single “Country Girl” landed on the Billboard Country Charts in 2007. She’s also had the opportunity to perform at The White House, Lincoln Center, and the Grand Ole Opry. Recently, Rissi invited Maren Morris, Cam, and journalist Andrea Williams on the show for a conversation about representation in country music and “what it truly means to be an ally.” The group discusses the problems the country music industry faces with race and gender, current obstacles towards progress, diversifying to support people of color, and how to find the way forward. A bi-weekly show on Apple Music Country, Rissi has had guests Mickey Guyton, Brittney Spencer, Crystal Shawanda, Kamara Thomas, Chapel Hart, and Miko Marks on the show. Announced earlier this week, Color Me Country and Rissi will also be showcased in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s "American Currents: State of the Music” exhibition, opening March 12th.
Also a champion for diversity in country music is CMT’s Leslie Fram who announced the 2021 Next Women of Country Class on January 23rd. A diverse class, four Black artists were represented including Reyna Roberts, Brittney Spencer, Sacha, and the Chapel Hart Band. “We’re thrilled to welcome the newest class of CMT’s Next Women of Country,” said Fram. “These artists represent the best of fresh new talent and the diversity of styles that country music has to offer. We look forward to providing this group more exposure than ever before, particularly within the ViacomCBS family on Pluto TV, as well as providing them with essential resources to help them build their musical careers.”
Two decades in the making, The National Museum of African-American Music (NMAAM) has finally opened. Located in downtown Nashville, the new landmark is bursting with history lessons, educational and networking programs, music history and aspiring musicians with growth opportunities. The museum opened to the public on January 30th and will be open Saturdays and Sundays only through February. Tamar Smithers, director of education and public programs at NMAAM says, “I’ve seen students who, really, their lives are transformed. We know that music is the great unifier and is an outlet for these students who are sometimes dealing with challenging things, especially now with the pandemic.” Youth are primarily reached through an interactive workshop titled “From Nothing to Something.” The workshop teaches history and innovation of instruments once used by enslaved Africans - spoons, harmonica and cigar box guitar, among others.
There’s still a long way to go, but these small movements are making a big impact. It is possible to create an inclusive space for all races in country music, but the burden can’t solely lie on the shoulders of Black individuals. We must come together in the fight against racial injustice. Morris voicing, "we all should be uncomfortable. The nature of it is change, is being uncomfortable. It's breaking out of something that has worked for very few for far too long, and for the many stopped so short."
Authors: Nicole Marchesi and Haley Moloney with contributions from Rissi Palmer.