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What Black Country Artists Have Said About Racism in the Genre

Rick Diamond/Getty Images for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Darius Rucker, Mickey Guyton and more Black country artists have been candid about the racism they have faced in the genre.

When Rucker made the transition from the frontman for the rock band Hootie and the Blowfish to country superstar, he had to fire back at trolls. After performing at the Grand Ole Opry in 2013, a social media user tweeted at Rucker telling him to “leave country to the white folk.”

“WOW. Is this 2013 or 1913? I’ll take my grand ole Opry membership and leave your racism. Wow,” Rucker responded.

Fans then rallied around Rucker and the singer made it clear he had no plans to stop putting out records.

“Gotta go to bed this has been hilarious tonight,” he wrote in a subsequent tweet. “If any hater thinks I care what u think. I don’t make music for u. So don’t listen.”

Keep scrolling to see what other Black musicians have said about racism in country music:

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Mickey Guyton

Guyton recalled that early on in her career she was told to make her songs “super country” otherwise fans of the genre would think she was “not genuine.”

“I wanted this opportunity so badly that I was ready to do whatever it took. But every time I turned something in — ‘No, that sounds too pop.’ I was trying to figure it out. ‘You want me to put a fiddle on this song? Twang it out more? What do you want?’” she said to The New Yorker in June 2021. “Meanwhile, I’m watching the whole industry put out records that had all these R&B. cadences, these R&B. phrases. I was frustrated, and not just by my own story. But God forbid anyone say anything, because, if you say something, then country radio is gonna cancel you, they’re not gonna play your stuff, and you’ll be Dixie Chick-ed.”

In 2020, Guyton released her single “Black Like Me,” which details the ups and downs she’s faced as a Black woman in personal life and her career. The song received a nomination for Best Country Solo Performance at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards, which made Guyton the first Black woman to receive a nomination in the category.

“This nomination is a testament to never give up and live your truth,” the singer said after earning her Grammy nomination. “I can’t think of a better song to make history with than ‘Black Like Me’ and I hope that I can continue to help open doors for other women and people who look like me.”

Linda Martell

Martell was the first Black female artist to perform at the Grand Ole Opry and one of the first commercially successful Black country artists.

“When you’re playing to an all-white audience — because Lord Jesus, they are prejudiced — you learn to not say too much,” Martell said to Rolling Stone in 2020. “You can carry it a little too far if you’re correcting somebody. So you learn how not to do that.”

Shane Anthony Sinclair/Getty Images For Bauer Media

Kane Brown

Brown, who is biracial, previously shared that when he first got his start in country music, many had assumptions about his musical style because of his race.

“Some people automatically assume I’m a rapper, but why wouldn’t I be country?” the “Thank God” singer told The Guardian in 2018. “It’s the music I’ve always listened to, and there are a lot of people that look like me who listen to and love country music too.”

K. Michelle

The Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta alum shared that while she’s been known for R&B music, her passion has always been with country music especially since she grew up in Memphis and did yodeling in college.

“They automatically assume because I’m Black, that I’m about to start rapping or making fun,” she said in a December 2020 interview on the “Yes, Girl!” podcast. “They considered it making fun of their genre because think about it: if we had someone of another ethnicity come in, which we do, come in and try to sound just like us mimicking us, we would be in an uproar.”

While Michelle understood the need to protect the genre, she doesn’t appreciate that some artists gatekeeping it from others.

“What I don’t respect in country is they are hogging it for themselves,” she explained. “Once you get in country though, you can sing it for the rest of your life.”

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Rissi Palmer

Palmer, who became the second Black woman to chart a country song, has been candid about broaching the subject of racism in country music despite guidance to the contrary.

“It was more so, like, ‘put your head down, write the songs, sing the songs, and you know, don’t talk about it.’ It’s obvious that you’re Black, so we don’t need to talk about it. And so that was how the first half of my career was pretty much conducted,” she said in a November 2023 episode of the “Dear Culture” podcast. “I didn’t really get super politically political, so to speak, until, you know, after the record label and after everything was over. Like, I’ve always been Black, but it’s always been. You know, just just try to get along.”

The “Country Girl” singer compared her journey in the industry to being the only Black person at school or in a job. While she has a shared love of music with her fellow musicians, she found it hard to find a sense of belonging.

“But there is this one thing, this thing where, you know, politically you might be different or racially, you’re different,” she confessed. “And so it was for me, trying really hard to be myself but also fit in. And try to figure out how to do those two things simultaneously.”

Charley Pride

Pride, who died in 2020, was a trailblazer in the music industry and one of the best-selling performers for RCA Records. Throughout his career, the “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin” singer has earned a series of accolades including a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance in 1972 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.

“They used to ask me how it feels to be the ‘first colored country singer,‘ Then it was ‘first Negro country singer,’ then ‘first Black country singer.’ Now I’m the ‘first African-American country singer.′ That’s about the only thing that’s changed,” he told The Dallas Morning News in 1992. “This country is so race-conscious, so ate-up with colors and pigments. I call it ‘skin hangups’ — it’s a disease.”

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Brittney Spencer

The “Crowded Table” singer shared that her background as Black girl from Baltimore in country music has inspired her music especially since the genre is underrepresented.

“It’s about wanting to know if, like, my story and my existence matters. A lot of people feel like their stories don’t matter because they’re not reflected, they’re not represented all the time,” she explained about wanting to fit in with the genre to WBFO in January 2024. “I come from that world of people where almost sometimes, like, your existence can feel inferior. It’s not something that weighs on my brain all the time, but it’s definitely like if you poke around deep enough, you’ll get to that part where you can hear in me where I still want to know where I belong or if I do.”

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Darius Rucker

While Rucker has made a name for himself in country music, many doubted his journey.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t think I would have much success. And when I started doing the radio stations and stuff, I had people say to me, to my face, ‘My audience would never accept a Black country singer,’” he told ET Canada in August 2023. “That’s something that I was like, ‘Okay, just play the record, let’s see?’ And then they did.”

Rhiannon Giddens

Giddens, who was a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, believes it’s not the audience who is gatekeeping country music but the institution itself.

“It has nothing to do with the audience, who are all lovely people. I feel the conflict of knowing this should be a mixed space,” the “Calling Me Home” musician said to Rolling Stone in June 2020. “I feel the dislocation. More diverse audiences are coming, but it still feels like the space isn’t safe for us.”

The Americana artist confessed that she gets tired of “carrying the ancestral weight” in a genre that Black people helped create.

“One of the biggest triumphs of African-American music is the banjo,” she explained. “The banjo took over the world. That means we helped create America’s music. Not blues. Not jazz. America’s music, period.”

Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Reyna Roberts

As Roberts made her debut in country music, she noted that getting an endorsement from Guyton and Carrie Underwood shielded her from racist backlash.

“I had two major artists and a team surrounding me so I didn’t have to face a lot of negativity at the time. They were putting me in safe spaces. Thankfully I had a lot of great experiences. There’s definitely been some roadblocks,” she said to BET in March 2024. “On the one hand, people are very open and are champions of me.”

While the “Stompin’ Grounds” singer is grateful to those who have championed her success, she acknowledged that being a woman in the genre isn’t easy.

“I would say that there are not many women that get played on country radio, and we’re talking about superstars. So Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Laney Wilson get played, but other than that, you don’t really hear too many women, which is so sad,” Roberts continued. “Imagine being a Black woman trying to get played on country radio and if it’s already hard for women in general?”

Amythyst Kiah

Before embracing country music, Kiah admitted she didn’t feel like she was meant to be part of the genre, despite getting a Grammy nomination for Best American Roots Song for her single “Black Myself” in 2020.

“I had in some instances enjoyed some country music, but there was that part of me that was like, ‘It seems like country music is for a certain type of person and I don’t feel like I’d be accepted, so how can I listen to this music?’” she said to Rolling Stone in June 2021. “But once I learned the history about West African influence in country music and bluegrass and string band music, and learning about the Carolina Chocolate Drops and seeing that visual representation, I was like, ‘Oh! Ok! This is cool.’”

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Alice Randall

Randall has made a name for herself in country music as a talented songwriter. She became the first Black woman to write a No. 1 country song in 1994 for Trisha Yearwood’s hit “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl).” While gearing up to release her 2023 LP My Black Country, Randall got candid about how racism in the genre fueled her creativity when she dropped music for herself.

“Because all the singers of my songs had been white, because country has white-washed black lives out of country space, most of my audience assumed the stars of my songs were all white. I wanted to rescue my Black characters,” she said in a press release at the time. “This album does that. Rt centers black female creativity, but it welcomes cocreators and allies from a myriad of identities. This is the good harvest: abundant love and beauty for all.”

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Joy Oladokun

While Oladokun doesn’t necessarily consider herself a country artist, the singer-songwriter opened up about her struggle to fit in with the music industry especially in Nashville.

“But living in Nashville, it’s been very interesting to see people do the mental gymnastics that they need to do to say that that doesn’t fit into the country genre or the world that they’re trying to build,” she said to The Berliner in March 2024. “I’m not trying to be a country artist, so I point it out, but I don’t fight about it a lot because there are Black queer people who are actively trying to be country artists and I don’t want to take away from their space. But I do think it’s funny that I can work on songs with several really famous country artists, and get zero support.”

The “I See America” singer joked that she thinks the people in Nashville “don’t like” her very much because she chooses to discuss “difficult” subject matters.

“I think it would be easier to just pick someone who is silent,” she shared. “The country music industry is still a microcosm – it’s like a small picture of the American government!”

 

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​Us Weekly

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