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Reclaiming Country Music For Black America: Beyoncé’s Bold Move Challenges Industry Norms

Mar 17, 2024 10:00AM ● By Gift Joe
beyonce performing

Raph_PHCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Beyoncé took her fans and music lovers by surprise when she dropped two new country-themed songs during the Super Bowl, "Texas Hold 'Em" and "16 Carriages" while announcing a new album, "Act II." Right now, the 32-time Grammy winner and Texas native is all the talk of country music.

“Texas Hold ‘Em” has already been a massive hit, becoming Beyoncé’s first #1 hit in country music when it debuted at the top of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. This is the first time a Black female artist has debuted at #1 on that chart.

Queen Bey has always repped her country roots, from her performances in the past with artists like Sugarland and the Chicks to her rodeo appearances, and her western aesthetics in her Ivy Park clothing line. She has been dropping country themes since the launch of Renaissance in 2021. Most notable of these has been the recurring appearance of her mirrored cowboy hat which she has embraced on several occasions.

Beyoncé Shakes the Country Music World

There’s been such a strong reaction to the song, both positively and negatively. There has been a massive debate about just how country the song is, with some country music radio stations even refusing to play the song. Well, the Queen of Country has spoken and Beyoncé has her seal of approval. In an Instagram post, Dolly Parton congratulated the pop star on her #1 country hit.

“I’m a big fan of Beyoncé and very excited that she’s done a country album.

“So congratulations on your Billboard Hot Country number one single. Can’t wait to hear the full album!” She shared on social media.

Grand Ole Opry also shared Dolly’s post and said they were excited to welcome Beyoncé to the Opry someday.

This did not go down well with country fans who dropped negative comments on both Dolly Parton’s and Grand Ole Opry’s posts. The critics have an issue with Beyoncé venturing into the country music genre and are saying her songs aren't country enough.

One of the comments on Instagram read:

“Beyonce has nothing and will never have anything to do with country music. Dying your hair and wearing a belt buckle doesn’t make you country. Introducing her at the Opry would be an insult to everyone within the Opry.”

While the debate continues, some have risen to her defense. Among them is her mother, Tina Knowles. She noted that Black musicians have always helped shape country music.

“When people ask why is Beyonce wearing cowboy hats? It’s really funny, I laugh because it’s been there since she was a kid, we went to rodeos every year and my whole family dressed in Western fashion. It definitely was a part of our culture growing up,” she wrote on Instagram.

Source: Instagram | Beyonce

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Do Blacks Have a Claim to Country Music?

Beyoncé’s new songs have reignited discussions about diversity and representation within the country music scene.

The controversy has mostly been about her “countryness,” and whether a pop star can cross from one genre to the next. Well, the singer isn’t the first to cross over into the genre as numerous other non-country artists have done so in the past, but it didn’t cause the same stir as Beyoncé’s has. The likes of Kenny Rogers and Conway Twitty were into other genres before crossing over to country music. Why is Beyoncé causing so much stir? Could it be because of her skin color?

Some have long stereotyped country music as being White. But from the start, the genre has been influenced by Black musical styles and performances. Country music has African roots. It is a genre founded, molded, and upheld by the Black community. Starting from the Banjo, an instrument within the lineage of the West African lute, Africans sparked the creation of the genre. How is it that country music has a multifaceted history deeply intertwined with the experiences of Black musicians and communities, and yet is associated with White people?

With Beyoncé's foray into country music, the genre might finally break free from the stereotypes. Her bold move can be seen as a reclamation of the genre, bringing country music back to its Black roots. It will also highlight Black contributions to the genre, challenging the idea that country music is solely White and also opening doors for more Black artists in the genre.

Over on X, formerly Twitter, radio personality Bobby Bones addressed the "historical" reason why Beyoncé and other Black artists have a claim to country music.

"So let’s get historical. Country music is based on the music from Africa brought over on the slave ships. And from Europe. With the fiddle and banjo. So all these dudes yelling 'that ain't country'... unless you're European or African, you ain't really 'country.' As far as music goes."

Are There Any Black Artists in Country Music?

From its earliest days to the present times, Black artists have played a key role in shaping country music. Yet, they have been marginalized in that sphere and their contributions have often been overlooked. Yes, there are Black artists in country music. Just because you don't know about them, doesn't mean they don't exist.

The late Charley Pride, penetrated this genre, breaking racial barriers with his remarkable talent and warm baritone that captivated audiences. For well over 50 years, he was the only Black artist significantly represented in the country music industry. He was an inspiration to generations of performers, opening doors for other Black artists. A 2020 recipient of the Country Music Association’s Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, Pride shattered stereotypes about who could be a country music star.

Darius Rucker (former lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish) is another Black artist who's broken through into country successfully. He has an incredible career as a country singer with at least eight #1 hits on the country airplay chart. He is also a three-time GRAMMY winner.

Despite the marginalization, the likes of Mickey Guyton, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, Brittney Spencer, and Willie Jones are currently conquering this genre.

Many see Beyoncé's move as a positive step towards inclusivity in country music. Some believe it could pave the way for more Black artists to explore the genre.

Will Beyoncé's venture into this genre spark a lasting shift in country music? Only time will tell. One thing that we know is that it has reignited discussions about diversity and representation within the country music scene. Maybe at some point things will change for the better and country music will become a bit more friendly to people of color.

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