When Beyoncé released her latest visual album “Lemonade” two weeks ago, fans were eager to discuss the country song included – and so were white country music critics. But many aficionados of the genre have ignored the role Black artists played in its development.
Country Music Television published a review criticizing the singer for her song,”Daddy Lessons.” There’s no mistaking the track is not R&B. Its guitar lines, fiddles and vocal emphases are clear markers of country music, yet the CMT piece asserted that “this song is no more country than her “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”
But country singer and “The Voice” judge Blake Shelton disagrees.
“I can’t believe people that don’t contribute to music that criticize music, it just blows my mind and Beyonce – tell them to kiss that a–, is what I would do,” he told Entertainment Tonight.
Country station K92.3 in Orlando played the song as a “trial spin” that resulted in a massive amount of backlash, according to Salon.
“She has no place on country radio. Her music is a disgrace to music,” wrote one listener about the song. “It isn’t even music! It’s trash!”
Those comments reveal the racist attitudes cemented in country music today. But according to Vox, the genre has deep roots in Black culture, beginning with enslaved Africans. The banjo, a staple instrument in country and bluegrass music, is connected to West Africa. The ngoni and xalam are two plucked stringed instruments rooted in the region.
Guitar player and songwriter DeFord Bailey’s music was grounded in African tradition. The harmonica wizard was a breakout Black country artist in the 1920s. According to Biography, he was credited with naming the Grand Ole Opry, a country music institution.
Beyoncé isn’t the first Black artist to face white judgment for moving from R&B or hip-hop into country music. Houston Press reports Nelly dealt with similar pushback from country radio when he released a duet with country artist Tim McGraw. Yet for all the backlash, white listeners love Ray Charles’ “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.” Vox reports the 1962 album was the first country record to sell 1 million units.