April 24, 2024

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Black country singers: “We are tolerated and not celebrated”

Black country singers: “We are tolerated and not celebrated”
  • By Iqra Farouk
  • BBC World Service

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Beyoncé became the first black woman to have a No. 1 hit on the country charts in the United States

Last week, Beyoncé made history on the US country charts, becoming the first black woman to have a No. 1 single with her latest single, Texas Hold 'Em.

The release is the first taste of a full-length country album — a follow-up to the Renaissance-focused house music — which Beyoncé referred to as Chapter Two.

But while she's making her way in a genre in which black artists have traditionally struggled to gain recognition, there are a handful of black women who have walked this path before her.

Recy Palmer, 42, from Missouri is one of them. She broke a 20-year wait for a black woman to appear on the country music charts with her 2007 single Country Girl. Before her, it was 1987's Donna Mason.

Image source, Chris Charles

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Reese became the first black woman to appear on the country chart in two decades with her 2007 single Country Girl

Speaking about Beyoncé's achievement, Racy told BBC World Service's documentary OS Conversations: “I'm happy that a black woman has finally taken first place.

“I think it's absolutely ridiculous that in the history of this scheme's existence, there have only been eight of us. And that's not a good thing, and it's not a happy thing.”

“She's a girl from Houston. She's just as southern as anyone else who makes country music. One of the great things about this Beyoncé moment is that she dispelled this myth that country radio has always tried to teach artists that you have to do things a certain way to get your music played.” ”

This comes after an Oklahoma station went viral for refusing to play Beyoncé's song, saying it did not consider her new material to be country music. After fan backlash, the station later added Texas Hold 'Em to the playlist.

But it touches on the core of the country music experience for black artists, who long to be accepted in the genre.

“Black women still don't celebrate.”

Enter Holly Gee, from Virginia. She is the founder of the Black Opry – an organization dedicated to creating connections between the country's black artists and Americana.

“For someone who loves country music so much, and has been around for so long and doesn't see themselves in it, I got to a point where I was frustrated by it,” she says.

“I had to make a decision, either stop listening to it or try to figure out a way to make it better. I decided to stay there and see what we could do.

“I think the way Beyoncé is celebrated should be the norm for all black women trying to work in this field. They've been tolerated more lately than they have been in the past, but they still aren't.” It is celebrated.”

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Black country singers praised Beyoncé for shining a light on the genre

“They're not yet included in meaningful ways. Beyoncé topping the chart doesn't change anything structurally,” Holly says.

The Black Opry is now touring across the United States to support the work of Black artists and the change they want to see.

Holly expresses her sense of urgency about the issue, adding: “There will never be another black woman at the top of the charts if she acts the way she did before Beyoncé entered the space.”

Reese agrees, knowing the struggle all too well.

“I was on a radio tour for about a year trying to get Country Girl to the top of the charts,” she recalls. “I wanted to talk about being black, and I was told not to. So instead, the black girl put an Easter egg in the song.

Image source, Chris Hollow

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Risi releases music independently after parting ways with her record label in 2010

“I think country means something different to white people and black people in America. We don't necessarily miss the good old days, because what were the good old days to us, you know? It was the Jim Crow days, it was slavery.”

“We tend to look to God and the future and black joy,” Risi says.

After a long legal battle, Ressie lost the rights to her master recordings and parted ways with her record label in 2010. She now releases music independently, and decided to move away from her Nashville hub to North Carolina because she felt it was “healthier.” “The thing is hers.”

Beyoncé nods to the genre's traditional sounds on Texas Hold 'Em — which features Grammy Award-winner Rhiannon Geddes on the banjo, who is credited with highlighting that black people invented and played the banjo before white country artists popularized it .

“It's grandparents,” Taylor Crompton, 28, points out the influence of country music in her life. As a Black woman from Texas, just like Beyoncé, she reflects on how the genre relates to her identity.

“I come from a proud family of farmers and cowboys,” she says. “My grandfather was buried wearing cowboy boots.”

Image source, Oscar Lozada

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Taylor Crompton is a 28-year-old country singer from Texas

As a writer, part of her job is to analyze the world of the country. But most of the time, she says, connection comes naturally.

“I think it's like a warm embrace and a hug from an elderly person who has passed away — or maybe when I spend the summer on my grandmother's farm and run away from the chickens and pigs.”

“I grew up hearing stories from my family members about how they were made fun of because of their accent. I think people forget that when Beyoncé first came out, she was made fun of for her accent in the press.

“At this moment, I'm receiving messages from Black women about how they feel like they can return to wholeness.”

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