So Lionel Richie has a new album out called Tuskegee and it’s kind of awesome. Richie has teamed with popular country acts like Blake Shelton, Jennifer Nettles and Willie Nelson to re-imagine some of his pop and R&B hits. For instance, Richie and Nelson turn the Commodore’s Easy from a slow burning, late night jam into something like a cowboy’s lament. And it works.

It should be no surprise that a man like Richie with deep Southern roots would have an appreciation for country music. In fact, considering a lot of black folks’ origins south of the Mason-Dixon line and the popularity of country music (According to the AARP Bulletin, in 2009 country music was the most listened to rush hour radio genre during the evening commute, and second most popular in the morning commute.), it’s more surprising that there aren’t more African American artists exploring the genre and that you don’t hear more steel guitars twanging from the park come summer reunion time.

Sure, there is Rissi Palmer, who sings “It’s all about my mama ‘nem and where I’se raised” on Country Girl.

And the Carolina Chocolate Drops went all bluegrass on Blu Cantrell’s Hit ‘Em Up Style.

But, for the most part, black acts are few and far between in country music. And lovin’ a little banjo and fiddle now and again remains rather a guilty secret for black music lovers like me. (But I’m used to taking the heat. I was the weird girl hoarding New Wave imports while my fellow teens were launching the hip hop revolution.)

What about you? Can you get down with a little country? Why is country music overwhelmingly considered a white music genre?

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  • maemae

    Everyone knows that some of the best R&B songs where country songs….

    i will always love you, how can you mend a broken heart etc etc.

    • As were “For The Good Times”- the Al Green classic (originally by Kris Kristofferson)
      Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” (originally by Tony Joe White)
      and Gerald Levert’s “I’ll Give Anything” (originally by Boy Howdy)

      Only one problem with your statement though: “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” was never a country song. In fact, it was originally written and recorded by the Bee Gees. To my knowledge, no country singer has ever covered the song.

  • jazzyphile

    I’m a fan of the recently late Dobey Gray, In the mid-sixties he had a big motownish hit called “The in Crowd”. Come the 70’s he breaks out with several country hits, “Loving Arms”, “Drift Away”, etc. He went from a hip motownish sound to country western but things held togeher as you could always hear his gospel roots underneath it all.

  • HowApropos…

    I grew up on country music so i have a fondness for it, especially the stuff i grew up with like Anne Murray, Eddie Rabbit, Charlie Pride, Charlie Daniels, Tonya Tucker, etc.

    I love the current groups like Rascal Flatts, Sugarland, Lady Antebellum(hate their name), etc.

    I think it would be great for Lionel Ritchie to go that route.

  • Ollie

    I haven’t heard Lionel Ritchies new CD yet but I have become a fan of country music, mostly because of Rissi Palmer. I never knew country music could be that beautiful and touch my heart the way she does. If Mr. Ritchie’s CD is even close to the awesome music on Rissi Palmer’s CD, then it’s worth me spending my hard earned money on it.

    • HowApropos…

      Rissi Palmer is so underrated, it’s pitiful. She’s beautiful and a great singer.

  • MossJac

    I agree with HowApropos, Rissi is completely under-rated. Her music as well as voice is beyond beautiful. I’ve got her album included on my work playlist on my ipod and constantly get asked who the beautiful voice that’s playing is. I love it!