Politics Assisting Editor/ Writer: Tony Peeler
In the 19th century, Africans were the first to invent the banjo, which became useful for traditional songs and events. This was eventually developed by African Americans and put into place for widespread use, becoming an important staple of country music. Blues and similar music produced by African Americans began to take footing, allowing many artists to pull from Black and White audiences. However, in the 1950s in order to limit the emerging success of Black artists in country music, promoters labeled them “race records” which allowed radio stations to avoid playing their music, effectively limiting the success of Black people in the country music industry. This effect is still seen today, where the genre is heavily dominated by white artists, making it extremely challenging for people of color to join.
Charley Pride is a notable Black country singer who rose to stardom in the 1960s. For his first few records, labels did not print Pride’s photo on the album cover due to the fear of fans boycotting his music on grounds of his racial background. As time went on, he later became one of the most successful country music artists of all time, later addressing the challenges he faced as a country singer during the civil rights era.
Now we are seeing country artists silent or even criticizing BLM or protests occurring around the nation. Black Lives Matter should NOT be a political or partisan issue but rather a human rights issue, one that is detrimental to the future of our society. Country was founded on the creation of African musical instruments and sounds, but unfortunately the artists who represent it pay no homage to its beginnings.
Black country artists such as Jimmie Allen, Mickey Guytan, and Kane Brown have come out in support of BLM, and have shared some of their experiences of racism within the industry. Mickey Guytan explained that if she was “white with blonde hair” , getting into the industry would be a lot easier due to the genre's discriminatory history. Guytan just released a new single titled “Black Like Me” , where she repeats “ If you think we live in the land of the free / You should try to be black like me," explaining that the United States is far from what the country music community likes to think it is. Mickey Guyton continued on to explain that during her concerts and meet & greets, attendees often racialized her as “colored” and questioned “why she was trying to be white”.
Kane Brown, a biracial country music artist, has explained that many country singers refuse to write with him - just because of his race. Despite having numerous No.1 hit records, and on the top of every music chart, racism still lingers within the genre.
However, many artists have come out in support of BLM, but have received much backlash for supporting human rights. Chris Stapleton, singer of “Tennessee Whiskey”, came out in support of BLM saying “Do I think black lives matter? Absolutely. I don’t know how you could think they don’t.” Stapleton then went on to explain the injustices that America must fix. Fans reacted by “throwing their records out” and “boycotting his music forever” simply because of his belief of an America that desperately needs fixing.
I personally do not believe that supporting BLM should be political or a dealbreaker for being a fan of someone, but unfortunately many hold these beliefs. Seeing artists being boycotted or shut out because of their racial background or their beliefs, is deeply disappointing to me.
Personally, I am an avid fan of all musical genres, and have a love for country music as I have grown up in Texas. Seeing artists come out and shed light on the undertones of the genre comes to no surprise to me as I myself have seen it firsthand. In the past when I have gone to concerts or events where country music was the focus, I have often been the only Black person there. Apart from being the one Black attendee, I can recount experiences of receiving questioning stares as to why I was in attendance. I have even turned down invites on numerous occasions to these events with the fear of being called out or discriminated against because of my race.
Seeing new artists that look like me and share my same story, makes me feel hopeful for the future of this genre, and the world in general. Being around country music lovers who hold prejudiced views about me, often saddens me because of their unfamiliarity of the origins of the very song they are listening to. With time, I believe that things will improve, but unfortunately as of now we have a long way to go.