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Black Country Music Artists

Updated on January 9, 2016

Black Country Music Artists

Black Musicians Who Sing Country Music are Encouraged to Sing R&B Instead

Name 5 Black Country Music artists. I'll wait.

How many could you think of? Hootie. Yeah. Darius Rucker. That's one. Did anyone say Rissi Palmer? Mikio Marks? Valerie June? Rhonda Towns? Carolina Chocolate Drops? Trini Triggs? Charley Pride? Mickey Guyton?

Black musicians who start out with aspirations for country music are often persuaded to sing R&B instead. How would producers market them to a world who can't understand their existence, and perceives their artistry as "White?" Many successful African American artists, including Michael Jackson, were said to have been inspired by country music as children. R&B singer Lionel Richie recently released the country album 'Tuskegee.' You don't see many Black Country Artists because country music is considered to be "White" due to marketing that separated Blues from Country in times of Jim Crow. Black and White musicians jammed together, but their audience did not. So producers had to come up with a way to separate this music so they could sell it to segregated audiences. All stemming from one place originally, Whites who sang this music were termed 'hill music' artists, and Blacks who sang it became 'race music' artists. Hill Music became Country music over the years, and Race music became Rhythm and Blues over the years. It was marketing that first separated the two, and it's marketing that keeps music genres color-coded today.

Things White People Say to Tokens

"Why don't you just be yourself?" "God. At least I'm not wearing plaid just because all my friends are doing it." "I feel bad because you don't have anyone to hang out with." "We placed you in this location because, in your interview, you said you wanted to work in an environment that gave you the opportunity to get to know your community." "You should listen to reggae."

These are just some of the many comments I got/get when living on the East Coast of U.S.A. I'm Black. And, I was raised in a place in Texas that had about a 5% Black population. But I moved to a place with a 58% Black population as a teenager. When I moved, so many people would ask me, "why don't you just be yourself?" I didn't understand what they meant until about a year into living there. They expected me to "act Black." I got this from so many people... several times a day... so much that it truly gave me a complex and sent me into depression coated with a full on identity crises. I knew they were referring to my blackness when they told me that I should "be myself" because I tested it out. I tested by "acting Black" instead of being MY Black self, and suddenly they were more comfortable. Whenever I "acted Black" I wouldn't hear from them that I should stop acting.

In a college class we were openly discussing identity. I shared a story about how I loved country music, and how I kept that fact to myself because I didn't want people to think that I was "trying to be White." I was wearing a lot of plaid that day. And I overheard a classmate say to her friend, "God. At least I'm not wearing plaid just because all my friends are doing it." Did she miss my point? She was implying that I was wearing plaid because "all my friends" were doing it. I was wearing plaid because I wanted to. Just like I listen to country music because I want to. When I was young, maybe 7 years old, I got my first boombox for my birthday. It was a little pink boombox with a tape recorder. It was the early 90s. When I liked a song I heard on the radio, I would push record on my little pink boombox and record it so that I could rewind and listen later, then rewind and listen again and again until I wore the tape out. In my room I listened to everything I could hear by sliding the dial across numbers AM, and FM. I would configure my dial to stations that played these ballads that told stories, because I liked stories. Even back then I loved to write, and I loved the power of a good story with a beginning, middle, and end. My friends didn't listen to country music. They didn't really think country music was cool. Pop music and rock music was cool. Their parents listened to country. Country wasn't cool. I didn't listen to country music because my friends were doing it. I listened because country music told a story. I listened because country music moved me. I listened because country music inspired me. You could say country music inspired me to become a writer today. Why is it that I have to lend my personal experience over to "Whiteness" when this is my personal experience that wasn't influenced by anyone? I found country music on my little pink boombox, and that music inspired me to become who I am today. How much more "myself" can I be? Why was it assumed that I was wearing plaid "because my friends" were? None of my friends in college wore plaid.

When hanging out with a group of White kids, dancing with them at a middle school dance I'm told by one of them, "I feel bad because you don't have anyone to hang out with" when I'm clearly hanging with them. I had tons of people to hang with, and I had been for the whole year. This was when I had just moved from Texas. I think that person thought that I was supposed to be hanging out with the Black kids. Like, friendship didn't count if your crew didn't match skin tones. Like, once I found Black people to hang with, I would have "people to hang out with."

After college I needed a part-time job while I job searched and lived at home at my parents' house. I applied to be a circulation aide at a local neighborhood library. The library was in walking distance from my house. I felt like this would be good for me because after I moved to the East Coast, I never really formed a bond with the community like I had growing up in my town in Texas. In my town in Texas I knew my library, City Hall, and other landmarks well. The city held activities like city clean ups where everyone would work together to pick up trash around the city, and they made a contest out of it. There were festivals, camps, activities to attend with your neighbor. We shut down the street to play neighborhood baseball games sometimes. But, when I moved up north the culture was much different. We hardly ever saw our neighbors, and hadn't even met some of them. I thought working at my local library would be a great way to put a positive spin on my experience on the East Coast and get to know my community. I got the job, but they ended up placing me in another library, 30 (driving) minutes away from my neighborhood. They placed me in a neighborhood that was predominantly Black, and low income, and very different than the predominantly White, middle class library that was in walking distance from my house. They said, "we placed you in this location because, in your interview, you said you wanted to work in an environment that gave you the opportunity to get to know your community."

When I'm caught listening to my favorite genre of music -- the music I found on my own, with my little pink boombox -- the music that inspired me to be a writer: "You should listen to reggae."

Things Black People Say About Tokens

"She thinks she's better." "Whitewashed." "Stockholm syndrome."

When I was a teenager, I thought it was sad that, because I had an accent that "sounded White," I was perceived as holding myself in a higher regard than people within a larger Black population who "sounded" and "acted" Black. After learning the depth of this situation, I understood exactly why these things were said about me. Our history has, unfortunately, separated Black people into those who are close to White people, and those who aren't. Those who are close to White people often have easier lives, and those who are farther from White people are more likely to be misunderstood, or written off as a threat. It's been this way since slavery. And, yes. It still is this way. Black people who "sound White," "dress White," "act White" or are light skinned are more accepted by unaware White people as being "good Black people." Therefore, these "good Black people" are safer. I've been profiled by police on a number of occasions but as soon as I open my mouth I'm given an apology and I'm on my way. Black people with an accent, or any indication that they didn't grow up with White people, in a middle class White community, do not have this privilege. You can see evidence of this on the news, and in discussions about police brutality. Some people claim that the acts had nothing to do with race; explaining that the unarmed Black victims were "thugs," not "good Black people." Well, what made them "thugs?" Their accent, their clothes, the way they walked, the music they listened to? They were unarmed, so what made them "thugs?" In my experience, Black people who grew up in Black communities saw the favoritism that White people give to Black people who grew up in White communities, and perceived my accent, clothes, and general being as a choice to reject "Blackness." It wasn't, and it never will be.

Final Season of American Idol: Tristan McIntosh

Lionel Richie's Country Album

Darius Rucker - Wagon Wheel

Rissi Palmer - Country Girl

Miko Marks' "Mama" Music Video

Valerie June - Workin' Woman Blues

Rhonda Towns - I've Heard The Wind Blow Before

Carolina Cocolate Drops: Snowden's Jig

Rhiannon Giddens- "Julie"

Rhiannon Giddens

Charley Pride "Is Anybody Goin' To San Antone?"

TRINI TRIGGS - Straight Tequila

Mickey Guyton - Better Than You Left Me


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