Country Music Is Here to Stay—and So Is the Global Black Experience Within the Genre

Country music, a genre deeply rooted in American pain as much as beauty, has been historically viewed through a whitewashed lens. Despite the lack of mainstream representation within the soundscape, musicians like Charley Pride, Stoney Edwards and Tina Turner prove that Black people have and will always be country enough.

Prior to the current country renaissance, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, in collaboration with Warner Music Nashville, was inspired to highlight the disturbing racial gap in country music. Urged by Black country recording artist Cleve Francis and American Baptist College executive Nelson Wilson, the collaborative efforts of both organizations resulted in the 1998 release of the musical box set, From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music. Now, with more than 25 years of recent commentary to add, the Country Music Museum and Warner have updated the CD collection to reflect how far we’ve come.

Spanning a century of records, the collection traces how Black Americans have created, contributed to and been influenced by the country genre. With an online, interactive feature, they “expanded From Where I Stand to include the physical CD set and to have a robust, free-to-access ‘online experience’ where people can listen to the music and read the essays, as well as access even more archival material and resources for educators,” said Michael Gray, the lead museum historian on the project.

When asked about the importance of honoring Black musicians in country music, Gray stated “Black artists and musicians are foundational to country music and have been creating this music since day one.” During the long yet creative process that acted as “a labor of love,” he added, “The collection is by no means exhaustive, but we feel like it speaks to Black artists’ important roles in the creation and evolution of country music. We also wanted to be sure we had people of color telling this story. We added new essays by Rissi Palmer and Rhiannon Giddens, who are both artists on the collection and scholars on the history themselves.”

Commemorating the release of the project in a one-time-only concert on May 18, country royalty, including The War And Treaty, a husband-and-wife duo consisting of Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter, will gather and perform in the museum’s CMA Theater. The couple who electrifies the American music genre said, “Country music is global. It is all of us. It’s you. It’s your grandmother’s mother’s father’s story. We all own it. We have to claim that, as a people, we are all country and music.” And, with a new song that reflects the Black country experience, The War and Treaty hope that ‘Called You By Your Name’ can help us “realize that we’re all in the same boat.”

Updated: June 25, 2024 — 3:03 pm