Black country artists are making a slow comeback to reach the heart of American music. Darius Rucker and Kane Brown are two Black male country singers who have revolutionized a movement to encourage more Black talent to become country singers.
Kane Brown started his journey in 2015 on social media. He exploded in popularity, not only for his emotional lyrics with catchy beats but because of his southern roots in Georgia and Tennessee. According to People Magazine, Brown was the first Black Solo Artist to win the American Country Music Video of The Year for his song, “We Got Us One.”
Darius Rucker grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. Born in the south, according to People Magazine, Rucker was a victim of racism his entire life. His brash approach to his music captured those affected by racism once he joined the music group Hootie and The Blowfish in 1986. As a solo artist in 2009, he became the first Black man to win the New Artist Award from the Country Music Association.
Country music is controlled by mostly white music enterprises. Historically, the promotion of country music has fallen in control of white artists. Since the early 2000s, country music has become a staple in white communities, whereas the Black community has had no say within the market.
A study conducted by Dr. Jada Watson, adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa, shows the massive racial disparity in country music in 2000-2020. Her report indicates out of 66% of all male artists and 28% of all female artists, only 0.6% of Black country artists are being recognized for their styles in country music on the radio. The study also suggested Black artists are losing traction from country radio stations. However, Black female artists are being hurt the worst for Black country music playing on the radio airwaves in the genre.
The report indicated the 2020 the distribution of songs written by Black female country artists was disproportionately excluded from white music labels. Their songs go unplayed on both radio stations and streaming services. According to the study, 2% of all songs written by female artists were played on radio stations from 2002 through 2020.
Before the 55th Annual Country Music Awards ceremony on Nov. 10, two Black female artists were nominated for artist of the year.
The step to nominate artists Jimmie Allen and Mickey Guyton was monumental in encouraging Black women to break barriers in country music, but more needs to be done.
“I don’t want anyone to become complacent,” country singer Rissi Palmer said in an interview with ABC. “I don’t want it to be because Jimmie Allen and Mickey Guyton are nominated for new artist awards to think that we made it, that we’re at Nirvana and that’s it.”
An acknowledgment to Black male and female artists starts with white industry leaders honoring Black country music. Airing artists’ songs on the radio can distort Black history, it can also change dynamics in music to encourage Black youth to strive to perform a different style of music.
Music changes are subdued by being unrecognized by white-run record labels. Recognition is an understatement for Black artists, Arizona State University professor Mako Fitts Ward said in an ABC interview.
“The country music industry has historically been designed to shut Black women out in terms of access to record labels and their appearance in country radio,” Ward said.