Black country singers finally highlighted

(Nashville) “In Music City, with dreams and high-heeled boots, singing to a blue-eyed crowd, will they want me too? »: the one who hums this verse on a stage in Nashville, the American capital of country, is a mixed race woman.

Julie Williams, a 26-year-old artist, talks about her childhood in a southern United States still haunted by its slavery past, and recounts her fight to establish herself in this Tennessee town nicknamed “Music City”, where careers are made or are defeated by white men.

It’s Friday’s release of a country album by one of the biggest stars of the moment, Beyoncé, which sheds light on the long history of black artists in this extremely popular musical genre in the United States.

“Who can’t wait to discover Beyoncé’s new country album? », shouts Julie Williams to the applause. “Is this what all the white girls have been feeling all this time? “.

She continues: “When you see someone who is at the top of their game and tearing it up, you say ‘wow, that could be me’, that’s awesome! “.

The highly anticipated album release Cowboy Carter by Beyoncé, who enjoyed worldwide triumph thanks to R’n’B and pop, is quite simply a “historic moment” to propel “black country music”, the singer confided to AFP backstage.

Julie Williams is one of the 200 members of the Black Opry, a collective created three years ago to carry the voices of black artists in genres often perceived as reserved for white artists, from country to folk.

“I have always been a big fan of country music and I have always felt isolated,” confides Holly G, founder of Black Opry, saying she is not “represented” enough, “especially as a black woman and queer “. “Neither among artists, nor among fans, nor in marketing.”

“When I started Black Opry,” she continues, “I realized that we were all there, but we just didn’t have the same platform or the same opportunities as our white colleagues.”

” What a difference ? »


Nashville, American country capital

Beyoncé’s new album could change things, said Charles Hughes, author of a book on country music and racial issues in the American South.

People say to themselves “ coolBeyoncé is starting to play country, here are a bunch of other artists to listen to,” the Memphis researcher told AFP.

“When we start to see things changing behind the scenes, the effect of the Beyoncé moment will be felt,” he continues.

Country is a musical style that draws on the African-American roots of the United States: the banjo, for example, was one of the instruments brought by African slaves deported to the Americas and the Caribbean in the 1600s.

However, black artists have historically been kept out of the musical genre and contemporary country maintains an image of white, macho and conservative music.

At the turn of the 20e century, with the advent of charts, the music industry even categorizes popular genres: country for whites, R’n’B for blacks.

“This initial separation was based solely on skin color, not music,” emphasizes Holly G.

And these labels persist.


Prana Supreme and Tekitha from ONE The Duo

“The song can sound exactly the same and people say, ‘That’s not country,’” says Prana Supreme, a member of ON E. The Duo, a country music group. “And I’m like ‘hmm, what’s the only difference?’ “.


Beyoncé herself has not escaped country conservatism.

The Texas native recently said she hopes that in the coming years, reference to an artist’s skin color or ethnic origin “will no longer be necessary.”

For Prana Supreme, Beyoncé’s country moment, which she describes as “iconoclastic”, will allow African-American artists and fans alike to reappropriate this genre. “Southern culture is black culture,” she argues.

Trea Swindle, a member of the country group Chapel Hart, also believes that Beyoncé “opens up country music to a whole new audience.” “Honey, go to Poplarville, Mississippi, whether you’re black, white, Asian, Hispanic, it’s Poplarville, and you’ll get that country experience,” she laughs.

But Holly G, from the Black Opry collective, is cautious, believing that Beyoncé could remain the exception because of her extraordinary stature. “It’s because the industry is intimidated by Beyoncé, not because she’s willing to support black women.”


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