The Undeniable Black Origins of Country Music

person holding guitar
Via Pixabay
Alyssa Guzik
February 12, 2024

Country music has always been ours. It began with the banjo, a prominent aspect of country music, that was invented by the enslaved as early as the 1690s. Enslaved people created their own hymns, spirituals and songs using the banjo, which was seen as an exclusively Black instrument. We also popularized the fiddle, which can be heard throughout early forms of blues, R&B, and country.

Despite the roots of country music, white supremacy has worked to erase this history and barred many other Black artists from achieving mainstream success. Two exceptions are Charley Pride and DeFord Bailey, the only Black artists to have ever been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Today, Black artists are carrying on their legacy – but not without backlash. Lil Nas X faced similar backlash in 2019 for his song “Old Town Road,” which was displaced from the country charts, only jumping to the top of the Hot 100 Chart when country legend Billy Ray Cyrus jumped on the remix. They didn’t believe X could make country music – but he’s had dozens of follow-up hits.

Beyoncé recently announced her new “Act II” album by releasing two songs – “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” – both of which include heavy themes of country music. She first dabbled in the genre with her 2016 song “Daddy Lessons,” which angered many country music fans online who claimed she is not what country music represents.

However, the reality is Black artists do represent country music because country music is deeply rooted in the Black experience. The current success of artists like Jimmie Allen, Darius Rucker, Kane Brown and others is a testament to the groundwork we’ve laid for centuries. We must reclaim this history and never forget that our presence and impact on the genre are undeniable.

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