Old Town Road and Black People in Country
The internet is all aglow buzzing about the new single by the African American artist Lil Nas X featuring legendary White Country artist Billy Ray Cyrus. The song entitled Old Town Road has many people excited, because it is so rare to see black people dominate the genre of country.
The crazy thing about it is African Americans are not new to Country as a genre. Actually Black people had a lot to do with the inception of the musical genre. Many sources claim that Country actually borrowed heavily from the tradition of Gospel storytelling.
This is no surprise. Black people basically birthed every genre of music. From the obvious R&B, Soul, and Hip-Hop to the more surprising genres of Rock and even classical music, black people have had a hand in the inception of them all.
What many people may not realize also is that over the years there have been several notable Black Country artists. The most prominent are probably Charely Pride who is most popular for his 1971 hit, Kiss an Angel Good Morning and Darius Rucker who was an artist in the Rock band Hootie and the Blow Fish but became a Country star this last decade.
Not only are African Americans Country artists, we like to borrow from the genre often. Aretha Franklin’s You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman) is really by Folk/Country (among other genres) artist Carole King.
Believe it or not, the sensual pillow talk number Lay Lady Lay does not belong to the Isley Brothers, but rather another Folk/Country artist Bob Dylan.
Many famous artists grew up being inspired by Country music. The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, admits in his autobiography Moonwalk that his mother, Katherine Jackson, grew up in Alabama so Country music was constantly being played in the home during his childhood.
Often Michael’s mother would sing to him You are My Sunshine (which was originally a Country love song not the kiddy nursery rhyme it is now) or Cotton Fields.
Alabama native Lionel Ritchie also explained that his roots are country and in 2012 he re-imagined some of his hits as Country songs in an album called Tuskegee (the city in Alabama he originated from). In the 1980’s, Ritchie even wrote the song Lady for Country artist Kenny Rodger each became Rodge’s most career defining song.
If you think Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus are the first black and white Country artist to pair, you are sadly mistaken.
Dolly Parton and James Ingram teamed up in the 1990’s for the Beethoven 2 soundtrack and sang beautiful duet called If I Ever Fall in Love.
In the early 2000’s rapper Nelly famously paired up with country artist Tim McGraw to croon the song Over and Over Again.
I hope that Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road truly starts a conversation and more Black Country artist began to emerge. If nothing else, I hope that Black people revisit our Country roots and become interested again in listening to great Country music.
If you are new to Country please listen to the playlist I curated below with some of the classic hit Country songs by black and white artists. Hopefully you will enjoy the music and consider being a Country music fan!