Beyonce’ Is Shaking Up Country Music

Beyonce’ is among the biggest stars in the world, one with a devoted following. Before her breakout solo career, she was a founding member of the 90s group Destiny’s Child. She’s sold 200 million records worldwide, won 32 Grammys and 26 MTV Video Awards. Her tours are wildly successful and Queen Bey reigns firmly atop the pop, hip-hop, and R&B charts.

Now, she’s gone Country with an upcoming new album (Cowboy Carter). The first single, “Texas Hold ‘Em” is currently number one on Billboard’s Hot Country Chart. And some folks are a little confused.  But maybe they shouldn’t be.

With very few exceptions, Country music has largely been the domain of white artists. Between 2000 and 2020, of the 400 artists signed to the three top Nashville labels, only 1% were Black.

But Houston native Beyonce’ is shining a welcome spotlight on the key role that African Americans have played in that genre over the years. Charley Pride was one of the biggest hitmakers of the 70s. Former Hootie and the Blowfish singer Darius Rucker has successfully transitioned to Country, being one of only three Black artists inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. In 2018, L’il Nas X blew up with his country rap song “Old Town Road.”

However, the influence of African Americans in the development of Country music goes much deeper.  For example, the banjo, which features prominently in “Texas Hold ‘Em,” was created by slaves.

Music historians note that Country music has its roots in a combination of English/Irish folk songs, African music, and gospel. The “cowboy” image, which Country frequently taps, grew in part by black cowboys of the 19th and early 20th centuries. These former slaves frequently transitioned to free-agent cattle herders and had their own camp song traditions.

In 1970, Linda Martell was signed to a Nashville label and went on to become the first black female artist to perform on the Grand Ole Opry (she ultimately had 12 appearances). Alice Randall’s book My Black Country is an excellent look at the important role African Americans have played in the genre.

While Beyonce’s first country single has generated a lot of buzz, it’s also spurred some unfortunate backlash, with grumbles that it threatens “traditional” country music. A few radio stations initially resisted playing it, but audience demand changed that. The song and Bey’s influence on the format was one of the hottest topics of discussion in the halls at the recent Country Radio Seminar in Nashville. It’s clear that she’s opening up a path to introduce new listeners to Country music.

Black social media creators have jumped on the chance to find new avenues of expression, making various country-themed TikTok videos to the song.

For those questioning Texas native Beyonce’s place in the format, she’s gotten the blessing of none other than Dolly Parton, who stepped out of her box last year with the release of her Rockstar album.

Beyonce’ has been a groundbreaking figure in the culture. Rolling Stone has named her among the best vocalists of the 21st century. So why shouldn’t she kick down a few walls and embrace the sounds she grew up with in Texas?

Much as Garth Brooks and Shania Twain injected new enthusiasm into Country during the 90s, Beyonce’ is “putting her cards on the table,” poised to do the same.

-Cindy Grogan

Photo: Beyonce, 2007 (Cornel Pex from La Senia, Spain via Wikimedia Commons)

Other Posts You Might Like

6 comments on “Beyonce’ Is Shaking Up Country Music

  1. Eoghan Lyng

    Nicely done

  2. Beyonce is my daughter’s favorite artist, and with every album and tour my admiration for her grows. The hell with those boxes and labels. Let’s call it what it is: racism. Go Queen Bey!

  3. John Smistad

    In the words of the late, great one, Johnny Carson, “I DID NOT know that.” Fine piece, our friend.

Leave a Reply (and please be kind!)