I’m going to write a rare piece here, in that I speak in the first person. I’m the lead copywriter here at Nashville California, and I’m also a songwriter. I’m friends with the site’s owner and fantastic country music songwriter–soon to be HIT country music songwriter–Ben Krahne. And let’s just get it out of the way: Yes, Black Lives Matter to us.
No, not because we view black people as any different or some sort of special status among human beings. It’s because for us, in country music, we’ve always viewed black people as Americans, just like every other. No offense to any Aussies or Canadians out there doing country music. You’re great, too, Keith Urban and Shania Twain. But there’s something quintessentially “Americana” about country music, and for as long as country has been blaring across the radio waves and into people’s homes, black people have been a big part of that scene.
Maybe not always in number, but certainly in impact. So, for us, regardless of any race or political leanings, Black Lives Matter. There’s no real way to speak to the level of importance of black Americans in the history of country music, rather than to just say it. Yes, country music is what it is today in large part because of the contributions of black Americans to not only country music but to a variety of musical genres throughout the nation.
This isn’t about politics. This isn’t about whether or not someone’s voting Trump or Biden. This isn’t even about whether you’re marching for social justice and change, if you merely support the movement in spirit, or if you don’t even support it at all. This is only about being factual. And in being factual, Black Lives Matter to country music because black Americans changed the face of the music and the industry at large.
While Hank Williams, Sr. was still a baby, a black American named DeFord Bailey, a world-class harmonica player and fantastic singer, was laying the groundwork for country music that others like old Luke the Drifter would soon skate across. Can you believe that Bailey was actually the first—yes, the very first—singer introduced on the Grand Ole Opry? It’s long been the rumor, so to speak, that this “white people’s music” is bigoted and racist. But in reality, while Jim Crow segregation was going on, country music said “To Hell with that” and introduced its first musician who just happened to be black. Not because he was black, but because he was good. So, yes, Black Lives Matter to country music, and always have. Anyone who doesn’t believe that can take their false anti-country stereotypes and kick rocks.
Charley Pride is one of those golden-era country music singers whose name will forever be mentioned alongside the likes of George Jones. A huge smashing success inside of a genre that’s supposedly still antiquated in our racial views, Pride is one of the most successful country music artists to ever live. With 39 number-one singles and selling over 70 million albums, to say ole Charlie was successful is an understatement. Tina Turner, Aaron Neville, Ray Charles, and so many more black Americans helped to shape this genre.
Today we have black Americans like Cowboy Troy and Darius Rucker. Far from some “tokens,” like big-city media would have you believe, these are merely Americans following in a very long and storied tradition of black people helping to shape the country music that we adore so much. So, yes, Black Lives Matter, especially to country music!