Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

In Beyoncé’s Shadow: 20 Black Country Artists That Deserve Your Attention

Beyoncé’s impact on country music with the release of Cowboy Carter cannot be understated. But to some activists pushing for greater Black inclusion in the institutions of country music, Cowboy Carter feels like a cash-grab more than any kind of social statement.

Black country and roots guitarist Yasmin Williams was one of the first to publicly criticize this aspect of Cowboy Carter.

“If this is the album that was supposed to reclaim & spread awareness of the black roots of country music, it’s doing a poor job,” Williams wrote on Twitter. “This seems to be more of an attempt to capitalize on the growing popularity of pop-country than to actually educate anyone on the history of the genre.”

Williams goes into more detail in an opinion piece published in The Guardian. Beyoncé does not center Black country music performers on the record, Williams argues, as shown by giving Miley Cyrus and Post Malone extended features while the few Black country artists on the record get a pittance of singing time. After initially marketing the album as country to generate press, Beyoncé retracted the sentiment before releasing the record. And perhaps most importantly, the majority of songs on the record are not recognizably country, drawing more inspiration from funk, psychedelic and Jersey Club genres. 

In short, argues Williams, Beyoncé leaned heavily on country aesthetics and marketing to cash in on the current popularity of country music and its intersection with race, all while releasing an album that isn’t especially country and fails to uplift other Black performers already in the space. 

If you love the rural themes in Cowboy Carter and/or are serious about fighting against the institutional discrimination in country music, lend an ear to the genre’s native Black performers. 

Modern Country: Chapel HartYou Can Have Him Jolene

Queen Bey’s Jolene cover is one of the more lukewarm tracks on Cowboy Carter, with some critics painting the tune and lyric alterations as hacky. But if you’re seeking a feminist take on the story told by Dolly Parton’s classic, look no further than sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and cousin Trea Swindle. Chapel Hart’s runaway hit takes the Jolene story and turns it on its head, with a vindictive finger-wag at the song’s unfaithful partner. The band’s performance of the song won a rare Golden Buzzer on America’s Got Talent and has drawn the praise of Parton herself. Any Beyoncé fans who want to step further into the wide world of Black country music will find a strong starting point with Chapel Hart.

Other Black Modern Country Artists: Madeline Edwards, Mickey Guyton, Darius Rucker and Kane Brown.

Classic Country: Stoney EdwardsA Two Dollar Toy

One of the most underappreciated artists of the 1970s, Edwards’ career was an improbable occurrence on its own. After a near-fatal industrial accident forced him to quit working, Edwards and his family fell on hard times. Finding no success pursuing music, he decided to abandon his family to give them one less mouth to feed and allow them to qualify for welfare programs while he continued to work independently. 

While leaving in the middle of the night, Edwards tripped over a toy he’d bought for his daughter, Janice, which eventually became the inspiration for his first single, A Two Dollar Toy. Buoyed by fellow Black artist Charley Pride winning the top honor in country music at the time, the CMA Entertainer of the Year trophy, Edwards would go on to sign with a major label and release multiple Top 40 hits as part of a short but top-quality career.

Other Black Classic Country Artists: Charley Pride, DeFord Bailey, O.B. McClinton and Linda Martell

Country Soul: The War and TreatyYesterday’s Burn

Husband and wife duo Michael and Tanya Trotter have some of the best vocals in modern music, and their 2023 album Lover’s Game had critics raving. Yesterday’s Burn went viral following the duo’s performance of the song at The Grand Ole Opry and exemplifies the sonic power behind all things War and Treaty. The pair are signed to Universal Music Group Nashville, one of the biggest labels in the country music sphere, and are perfectly positioned to carry country soul forward into the modern era. 

Other Black Country Soul Artists: Ray Charles, Yola, Arthur Alexander and Petrella.

Neotraditional Country: Charley CrockettWelcome to Hard Times

A true modern-day cowboy, Charley Crockett is widely known as the hardest working man in country music. The moniker is deserved—Crockett’s thirteen full-length albums in the past nine years would be a record if anybody were counting. A connoisseur of American Roots music, Crockett staunchly preserves older tracks and albums that are in danger of falling from the cultural consciousness. From Freddy Fender to Tom T. Hall, he leaves no stone unturned in his effort to catalog and record the b-side of the United States. Crockett is far from a cover artist though, also writing and recording significant amounts of his own music. One such track, Welcome to Hard Times, puts the listener smack in the corner of a dusty Western casino with a beer in hand.

Other Black Neotraditional Country Artists: Wendy Moten, Tony Jackson, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Aaron Vance.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Sam Bunn, Investigative Editor

Comments (0)

All The Spectator Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *