Race in Country and Roots Music

carolina chocolate drops

When the nominees for the Americana Music Association awards was released there was some that commented on the lack of diversity; which is a shortcut for racial diversity. I agree there’s no one of color represented. But the implication is that racism is to blame. Yeah, that’s not it.

Though I do believe there is an inherent bias in the AMA wards nominees it tends towards the popular and well-known and not on skin color. If an African-American act sold as many albums as Mumford and Sons you can bet they would be o the list.

Though I’m willing to call out discrimination when I see it, the simple fast is there’s not a lot of diversity on the Americana charts, which represent the source of the radio-centric voters for the AMA Awards. Superior performers like the Carolina Chocolate Drops are few and with no representation there’s no opportunity for celebration.

Some have suggested we expand Americana to include the Blues and R&B. Though these genres, like country , folk, and jazz, feed into the greater American music ocean they are going fine on their own as mature, rich and diverse genres. Beside we already have extraordinarily talented musicians that, regardless of color, deserves celebration without us wringing our hands when we do so.

Some want to dig deeper than the charts and top level performers to see if there’s a strata of increased diversity somewhere below the surface. I’m all for seeking out undiscovered talent, but seek how far and for what reason?

Personally I’m not an advocate for pilfering other mature genres or lowering a musical bar, those are forms of racism. How far afield would we have to travel to address some imagined suppression of racial diversity?

Then there is outright racism. After appearing on the Opry stage Darius Rucker received a tweet stating that he should “leave country to the white folk.” Now that’s racist as well as historically imprecise. Huffington Post held an interesting discussion on the subject of race in mainstream country industry and culture.Though I don’t fully agree with all the discussion it’s a healthy and interesting conversation. Perhaps there should be a roundtable on race in the more left-leaning Americana genre.

Hosted by Marc Lamont Hill with guests Charles Hughes (Memphis, TN) Music Historian at Rhodes College, Cowboy Troy @cowboytroy (Mt. Pleasant, MI) Recording Artist at Warner Music Nashville, Rissi Palmer @RissiPalmer (Raleigh, NC) Country Music Singer / Songwriter, John Bryant (Dallas, TX) Ray Charles’ Drummer and Stanley Crouch (Brooklyn, NY) Writer and Music Critic

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4 thoughts on “Race in Country and Roots Music

  1. 25 May, 2013 at 7:48 am

    why doesnt anyone ever ask where the diversity is in the rap & r&b genres?

  2. Baron Lane
    25 May, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Good point. I think the Blues and Hip Hop industry might not suffer from he same guilt complex.

  3. Jack Williams
    26 May, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    I have to say I resent this a little bit. Some racist yahoo out there somewhere makes an ugly tweet towards Darius Rucker and this becomes the catalyst for a panel discussion called “has country music forgotten its black roots.” Meanwhile, Darius’s first pop country record goes platinum and the second goes gold. I’d bet that the people buying his country albums are overwhelmingly Causasian.

  4. Nadia
    3 June, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    I am black and I always didn’t like country and thought it was for white people. Boy was I wrong and my mind and heart kept coming back to country music. Blacks had huge parts in early country and blue grass. Because of racism point blank that is one reason you do not see many blacks. Not many know the real history behind country or blue grass. The Irish, Scottish man and women got along great with blacks and together they made country and blue grass. The banjo is a West African instrument :) because I have West African ancestry which makes me very proud. Bill Monroe the father of blue grass, country music was taught and influenced by this black man named Arnold Shultz. So please the real history of what happened from countries great like the Carter family who also influenced and blacks taught them.

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