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?