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Woke Up Like This:
Beyoncé's "Cowboy Carter" And The Black Roots Of Country Music​

Let's be honest, when Beyoncé dropped "Cowboy Carter," Act II of her Renaissance project, eyebrows were raised. Queen Bey tackling country music? This unexpected genre exploration sparked a firestorm of conversation, leaving me, a Black woman music lover, with a question: where does country music come from, anyway?

Turns out, the answer isn't as simple as overalls and dusty roads. My initial surprise at Beyoncé's foray into country music led me down a rabbit hole – a fascinating one, at that. Here's what I discovered:

Black Roots Run Deep:

Country music's twangy melodies and storytelling lyrics owe a huge debt to African American musical traditions. Work songs sung by enslaved people, with their rhythmic call-and-response format, laid the groundwork for the antiphonal singing styles found in country music. Spirituals, sung with soulful vocals and harmonies, heavily influenced the sound that became synonymous with the genre. The banjo, a staple of country music, descended from West African lutes brought over during the slave trade.

Black Artists, Paved the Way:

Despite their undeniable influence, Black artists faced immense challenges breaking into country music. Charley Pride, who began his career in the 1950s, shattered barriers to become the first Black country superstar. DeFord Bailey, a phenomenal guitarist and early Grand Ole Opry star, faced discrimination but left a lasting mark with his innovative fingerpicking style. These pioneers, along with Darius Rucker and Rhiannon Giddens in recent years, laid the groundwork for a more inclusive country music scene.


Beyond Country: A Legacy Woven Throughout Music:

The impact of Black music extends far beyond the country. Blues, with its focus on improvisation and storytelling, formed the foundation for rock and roll, influencing countless genres. Jazz, born from Black American traditions, revolutionized musical composition and improvisation, forever changing the music landscape. Early R&B and soul artists like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin introduced elements of gospel and blues to mainstream audiences, shaping the sound of popular music as we know it.


A Call for Recognition and Celebration:

"Cowboy Carter" serves as a powerful reminder that Black artists have always been at the forefront of shaping American music, including country music. While their contributions are undeniable, their stories are often overlooked. Beyoncé's exploration of the genre, intentional or not, forces us to confront this blind spot and celebrate the rich tapestry of influences that make American music so vibrant.

So next time you hear a twangy guitar or a soulful melody, remember the Black roots that run deep within country music, and the enduring legacy of Black music that continues to shape the sounds we love.


Submit your questions to Marie here.

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