Beyonce dominating the CMAs stage with the Dixie Chicks in Nashville was in all aspects a breathtaking performance, but more importantly it was iconic for the mere fact that it, if even for a minute, shed light on a major deficit in country music.
Specifically, a deficit of black artists. Not that black country artists don’t exist; they just tend to be erased from the genre.
The myth that black people and country music don’t mix has seemingly transpired into a feigned reality.
Despite her latest “Lemonade” album featuring “Daddy Lessons,” a very country-sounding track, once news broke that Beyoncé would be performing at the CMAs the artist (you can watch the performance below) received a great deal of backlash.
“She’s not a country artist!” “She doesn’t belong here!” “The CMAs are ruined!” were only a few of the things people cried. Granted, Beyoncé is generally not labeled as a country artist so some of the backlash could have been valid if the criticism was solely focused on that. But people were genuinely adamant about boycotting the CMAs and comparing Queen Bey’s performance to a white artist performing at the BET Awards.
We can’t ignore the racist undertones of some of those comments — regardless of whether they were intentional.
Believe it or not, country music was heavily influenced by black people.
“In the antebellum South, banjos, fiddles and harmonicas were the dominant instruments played in black culture. Unfortunately, history has distorted these facts to make people believe jazz, blues and spirituals were the staples of black culture at that time when, in fact, it was country,” said author Pamela Foster in a giant 1998 Chicago Tribune about this topic.
By the way, the banjo–a staple in country music–originated in Africa.
Despite the many contributions the black population has made to the genre, we rarely see them honored for their work.
“Black artists feel like they have been left out of a whole industry for no reason other than color,” Cleve Francis, a black country singer, said in that same Chicago Tribune story. “Country music has mirrored the racial divide in this country. Other forms, such as pop and opera, have integrated but…blacks have never been welcome in Nashville.”
And if they’re not welcome in Nashville, they certainly were rarely welcomed at the CMAs. Charley Pride was the first, and only, black artist to win Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards… and this was in 1971.
So while the Beyonce didn’t necessarily single-handedly revolutionize country music, the “controversy” surrounding her performance demonstrated how much progress we still have to make.
And, for now, it feels like Beyonce’s performance at the CMAs could be a step in the right direction.