20 Artists Who Crossed Over to Country, From Beyoncé to Ray Charles

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20 Artists Who Crossed Over to Country (and How They Fared): Beyoncé, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Bon Jovi and More
20 Artists Who Crossed Over to Country (and How They Fared): Beyoncé, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Bon Jovi and More

Beyoncé is part of a great tradition of artists from the pop, R&B and rock worlds stepping into the realm of country music, whether it’s for one record or, in occasional instances, a whole career shift. Of course, none of her predecessors made immediate international headlines by releasing a country single, the way Bey did with “Texas Hold ‘Em” (and its companion song, “16 Carriages”). But at least one can be said to have deeply affected the course of music history: Ray Charles, whose smash 1962 album “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” has continued to make music fans think about the links between soul and country, and who established once and for all that crossover doesn’t have to be cause for cynicism.

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With Beyoncé as an impetus, Variety is taking a look back at 20 other artists who made their bid to have a side career in country, or just ended up dipping in for one project. Darius Rucker is the exception, as somebody who shifted his entire focus toward the sounds of Nashville. Then there are those like Jessica Simpson, who went from saying she was in country for good to quickly ghosting on the genre after a flop. Even Bon Jovi, who did have a No. 1 single, still left Nashville behind after a single project, as a one-and-done thing. And along the way, there’ve been oddities, like… Ween made a country album? Wait, didn’t we only dream that?

These selections by no means represent the entirety of the phenomenon. Other artists, from Cyndi Lauper to Tiffany, have made a token country record, and the whole history of mid-century country is filled with artists who had a brief career at the very beginning in some other roots genre before switching over, from Charlie Rich to Conway Twitty to Kenny Rogers. But these are some of the more interesting examples of stars who suddenly decided to get their twang on — in reverse chronological order:

Beyoncé

Beyoncé
Beyoncé


Beyoncé had teased her intentions to move into country before, when she included the song “Daddy Lessons” on her 2016 “Lemonade” album, and subsequently performed it on the CMA Awards as a collaboration with the Dixie Chicks. But few could have guessed that she would venture into the form for a whole album. At least fans think her upcoming “Renaissance Act II” will be a wholesale step in that direction, from the two songs she released from it on Grammy night and her new ready-to-throw-down-in-a-hoedown look, even though she hasn’t given any interviews or made statements about what else might be in store with the March album.

Did it work? Abundantly, at least in the first couple of weeks of release. Streaming results made it into her biggest out-of-the-box song in a decade. And the reaction was overwhelmingly positive on all sides of the genre fences she’s straddling. What remains to be seen is how it ultimately plays out at radio, with a banjo-driven, line-dance-friendly banger not being obvious rhythmic Top 40 fare. Country radio gave it a very impressive 75 adds in its first week, but heavy rotation could be a challenge if there remain some “Hold ‘Em” holdouts in the format’s core audience.

Will she stay? “Renaissance” has long been touted as a three-act concept, so if there’s an “Act III,” it’ll probably sound as far afield from country as “Texas Hold ‘Em” sounds from “Break My Soul.” But if she’s ultimately a tourist and not planning to retire in country, this could at least make for a glorious album cycle that resets expectations about genre boundaries in a revolutionary way. Also: it could be fun.

Elle King

Elle King
Elle King


First, with “Exes and Ohs,” King became a rare success story as a debuting woman in the rock world. Then she went on to become a rare success story as a debuting woman in the country world. King first made her mark in country as a featured duet guest on Dierks Bentley’s “Different for Girls” in 2016, but she didn’t become a true headliner on a country single until she shared top billed status with Miranda Lambert on the duet “Drunk (And I Don’t Want to Go Home)” in 2021.

Did it work? Yes: It worked so well that “Drunk…” became the first duet by two women to top the country airplay chart in 18 years. A follow-up single released to radio, “Worth a Shot,” which reunited her with Bentley, fared less well, so the jury is still out on whether she’ll be a long-term success in the format.

Did she stay? So far, King seems very committed to country. After “Drunk…” became a smash three years ago. the singer took advice about cementing her place in Nashville and actually tabled a pop-leaning album she had made with producer Greg Kurstin in favor of cutting a new one, 2023’s “Come Get Your Wife,” in a country vein. And she stayed in fans’ faces by co-hosting two big prime-time country telecasts in the last year. It remains to be seen how her recent Grand Ole Opry debacle, in which she drunkenly flubbed a Dolly Parton tribute, will play out with the core audience; a few country diehards who never liked her in the first place used the brouhaha to ask what anybody expected from a carpetbagger. But King has probably built up enough good will to smooth things over with a short apology tour… and let’s face it, there’s a rowdy portion of the audience that’s gonna think swearing on the Opry gave her some outlaw cred.

Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue
Kylie Minogue


At the behest of her A&R woman, Minogue spent a little time collaborating in Nashville and made what was described as a country-pop album, “Golden,” in 2018, including the single “Dancing,” co-written with former Taylor Swift producer Nathan Chapman. “I know a lot of people were nervous,” she told Rolling Stone. “‘What? What do you mean country?!’ It’s a flavor that I love. I can’t unlearn or take out of my system what I now have from the experience of making this album.” Or could she?

Did it work? Eh. “Dancing,” which Rolling Stone called “a honky-tonk disco gem,” did hit No. 1 on Billboard’s dance cub songs chart, and went top 10 in a few nations. But it didn’t move the needle much for anyone not already in the bag for Kylie — least of all American country programmers and fans, who mostly remained blissfully unaware the pop thrush had moved in their direction, with no promotion at the format.

Did she stay? No — by the time she returned to form with a real international comeback in a familiar style in 2023, it seemed clear that country had not actually made Minogue’s heart go padam padam in any lasting way.

Lady Gaga

Well, Gaga didn’t make any kind of full-on country move with her “Joanne” album in 2016, but enough of the aesthetics and trappings were there that, when Beyonce surprised everyone by showing up at the Grammys in a cowboy hat, the first thing a lot of viewers flashed back to was Gaga in a pink Stetson eight years ago. Prophetically enough, when “Joanne” came out, Vulture referred to the songs “Million Reasons” and “Sinner’s Prayer” as “the biggest left-field bids for country-radio airplay since Beyoncé’s ‘Daddy Lessons.’” Truth be told, not many of the album’s songs had any major country lilt to them, but that tag got widely applied to her roots move anyway — aided by her choice of head gear and the fact that she did a promo gig for the release in a Nashville dive bar.

Did it work? Contrary to what Vulture predicted, there was no effort to go after country airplay, so stakes were low when it came to acceptance by country fans or gatekeepers. The album is still beloved by many fans, but sits somewhere between its letdown predecessor, “Artpop,” and smash followup, “A Star Is Born,” on the Gaga scale of perceived successes.

Did she stay? That hat stayed in the closet afterward. So did the faux twang a few critics perceived they heard in her voice on parts of “Joanne.”

Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler
Steven Tyler


In signing a solo deal with Big Machine, Taylor Swift’s then-company, in 2015, the rocker seemed committed to Nashville as a place to make a home outside of Aerosmith. “I think country is the new rock & roll,” he’d told Rolling Stone while presenting at the CMA Awards. “I grew up in the woods of New Hampshire. . . I have more country in me than people think.” Raising the question: Are all woods created equal? “My earliest influences put me somewhere between the Everly Brothers and the Carter Family, and this project is all about me paying homage to my country roots,” he elaborated upon inking the deal with Scott Borchetta. He was paired with producers including T Bone Burnett, on the cred side, and Dann Huff, on the commercial tip.

Did it work? Reviews weren’t terrible… but they weren’t terribly enthusiastic either. After a lot of hoopla, a big push out of Nashville couldn’t get “Love Is Your Name” on country radio, as the song peaked at No. 33. A follow-up, “Red, White and You,” barely cracked country’s top 50, and suddenly it was if the whole thing never happened.

Did he stay? The ultimately tepid reception for his solo debut, “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere,” seemed to have cured Tyler not only of making records in Nashville, but of making records, period. Eight years after its release, he has yet to make a second solo album. Needless to say, when Aerosmith finally toured again, the Carter Family was not invoked.

Cassadee Pope

Cassadee Pope
Cassadee Pope


Pope had released an album and two EPs with the modestly successful rock group Hey Monday when she went on season 3 of “The Voice” and won it, emerging under coach Blake Shelton’s tutelage as a country artist. She signed with Republic Nashville and had her debut solo single for the label, “Wasting All These Tears,” make it to No. 10 at country airplay. When she was a guest on a Chris Young single, it went to No. 1.

Did it work? Initially, yes, But those two early radio hits proved to be a false promise of how well Pope might do going forward in a format where it seems women, in particular, have as tough a time following up on hits as they do ever landing any in the first place. She ended up switching to the Big Machine label, where she made an album that got shelved before she got dropped.

Did she stay? Funny you should ask that, right now, because Pope announced just this month that she’s pretty much leaving the country format. The grass back on her first side of the fence, rock, started looking awfully green after a decade of trying to get and keep a foothold in commercial country. “Anyone who has seen me play, it’s a rock show,” she told Rolling Stone. But it wasn’t just style or success factoring into the decision. Along with Maren Morris, she’d gotten into an online dustup with Brittany Aldean, Jason Aldean’s very right-ward wife, over trans issues. And that helped convince her maybe she’d landed in the wrong place: ““I realize every genre has problematic people in it. I’m not saying there’s not a frontman in a band who hasn’t been accused of something in rock music. But I guess rock is in my bones more. You’re not completely ostracized and shamed for speaking out.” Making the re-transition complete, she recently released a pop-punk version of her biggest country hit, “Wasting All These Years.”

Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie
Lionel Richie


Years before an “American Idol” judging gig brought him back into the limelight in a bigger way, Richie revivified his recording career by cutting an album of duets with 13 different country stars in 2012. Heavily promoted to the country audience, “Tuskogee” partnered him with Shania Twain, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson and other star — all of whom adapted more to his style than he did to theirs.

Did it work? If it felt like country stars coming in and out to join Richie on karaoke of his own old hits, the country audience didn’t mind. The album was an unexpected smash, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the first time he’d reached that peak since “Dancing on the Ceiling,” Mind you, country radio didn’t give “Tuskogee” any air, man. But it didn’t matter; the guest stars’ audience bought it in big numbers

Did he stay? Of course not — “Tuskogee” was understood as a one-off, not a move to take up a new base in Music City for good. But you can’t exactly say Richie moved back away from country with his following album. There has’t been a following album. So, like Steven Tyler, he still has a shot at doing two country albums in a row, if he ever returns to the studio.

Aaron Lewis

Aaron Lewis
Aaron Lewis


When he’s fronting the metal band Staind, a day job he’s had since the mid-’90s, Lewis hasn’t always been so much about sharing his right-wing beliefs. But after releasing his first solo country project in 2010, the singer found that that a large part of that genre’s audience was ready, willing and able to listen to him rage against the libs.

Did it work? Red-state bait like “Granddaddy’s Gun” and “That Ain’t Country” didn’t get Lewis very far on the country charts. But finally, in 2021, his anti-lefty, anti-Springsteen screed “Am I the Only One” went to No 1 on Hot Country Sales — albeit almost purely on the basis of sales and streaming, as his “man of the people” routine went viral. Country radio still wanted nothing to do with it, though, as the song peaked at No. 52 on airplay.

Did he stay? With country providing a ready forum for him as a genre to ply his patriot act, Lewis isn’t likely to bolt for any less politically compatible waters. He’s still active with Staind, too, but rock really seems to have become his side gig. The more he antagonizes the “woke” — and gets reactions like Variety naming “Am I the Only One” the worst song of 2021 — the more his new contingent of solo fans loves it.

Darius Rucker

Darius Rucker
Darius Rucker


This story you surely know: The career of Hootie and the Blowfish waxes and wanes, and mostly wanes in the 21st century, while singer Darius Rucker’s wild risk of a would-be side gig, a solo career in country, takes off from the start after he releases his first album directed at the format in 2008.

Did it work? Did it ever. He’s had nine No. 1 songs in country, from 2008’s “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” through 2020’s “Beers and Sunshine.” Rucker’s success as the first Black man to make it big in country since Charley Pride put the lie to the idea that people of color would face a problem at the format across the board; it turns out it’s just Black women that have continued to catch no breaks.

Did he stay? He felt so much at home that it’s his other career, in Hootie, that immediately got put on the back burner. His band, which sold 21 million copies of its 1994 debut album, has issued only one little-noticed record of its own since Rucker went big as a solo artist 16 years ago.

Jessica Simpson

Jessica Simpson
Jessica Simpson


Nine years after debuting as a pop starlet, Simpson released her first and only country album, “Do You Know,” in 2008, reassuring fans of the genre that she was not dipping in lightly. Backstage making her debut at the Grand Ole Opry, Simpson told this writer, “So far people have been really kind. Even though sometimes it’s backhanded, like ‘I really wanted to hate this, but I like it.’ I’m like, ‘Wow! Okay. Thank you, I guess?’ Still, I’d rather it be that way than the other way around.” The then-28-year-old added, ”I definitely feel like I’m 19 again, like when I was starting out as a brand-new artis. Meeting all the DJs, letting people get a sense of who I am and why I’m stepping over into country music… I think once people sit down with me, they understand that it’s a good fit. The only [concern] is people thinking that I’m just trying to jump in for a little bit and then go back to pop. But I’m here to stay.”

Did it work? Nope… although the album really was not bad, by country-pop standards. Her first single in the format, “Come on Over,” broke a country airplay record for the biggest debuting song by a new solo artist — but after that big add date, it stalled at a peak of No. 18. Her second single off the album stiffed, and that was it for Simpson and country.

Did she stay? “Here to stay” overstated it by a little… well, entirely. That wasn’t just the end of the line for Simpson and country, that was it for her making and releasing music generally. She has not put out a new album or single since those country efforts in 2008. So at least no one can say she went back to pop music with her tail between her legs.

Jewel

Jewel
Jewel


Jewel flipped the switch to country in 2008, releasing the album “Perfectly Clear” on Valory Records, a sister label to Big Machine, which was just busting out with Taylor Swift at the time. The album was produced by John Rich, in his pre-toxic days. “I grew up in the country format, a real fan,” she said. “A lot of my heroes were great storytellers like Loretta Lynn and Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard… This country record isn’t like I woke up and became somebody else. It’s still me being a storyteller… “I feel like the future for me and my songwriting is here because I don’t have to change who I am or be something different and have beat-driven music.”

Did it work? It worked OK until it didn’t. The country world initially seemed quite happy to have her; her biggest single in the format, “Stronger Woman,” peaked at No. 13, and her two Big Machine-driven albums found moderate success.

Did she stay? Country didn’t turn out to be the permanent escape from “beat-driven music” she’d envisioned. She’d made her official exit from the genre by the time she released 2015’s “Picking Up the Pieces” on the Sugar Hill label, at which point she said she was “going back to my folk/American roots that I began with.” She did still record in Nashville with some of the city’s finest, even if she’d abandoned hopes of making her mark in mainstream country.

Bon Jovi

Bon Jovi
Bon Jovi


In 2006, Bon Jovi re-recorded the band’s song “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” as a duet with Sugarland’s red-hot Jennifer Nettles, and the irresistible vocal chemisry went to No. 1 at the country format. Thus emboldened, Bon Jovi cut a whole album intended to go after that market, 2007’s “Lost Highway,” described as “a Bon Jovi record influenced by Nashville.” Or, to you and me, a country album. It included a few co-writes with country hitmakers like Hillary Lindsey and featured appearances by Big & Rich and LeAnn Rimes.

Did it work? For a time. Although critics weren’t sure if their Nashville move really sounded much different from a normal Bon Jovi record, the album succeeded in drawing in some new fans from the country world without alienating the New Jersey crowd. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with a whopping 292,000 copies sold — the last time they would see those kinds of numbers in a week. When it came to country radio, though, the format seemed to have a lot less interest in the group when Nettles wasn’t on board, The Sugarland-free “(You Want to) Make a Memory” peaked at No. 35 on the country chart.

Did they stay? No. It was one-and-done as far as Bon Jovi and Nashville were concerned, whether that had to with disenchantment over the struggle at the country format or just stylistic course correction. The band dropped the Hank Williams references and returned to a standard mainstream rock sound with their next album in 2009.

Kid Rock

Kid Rock
Kid Rock


Hard to remember that Kid Rock was ever once considered a rapper, or a rocker. The artist (seen above with Florida Georgia Line and Jon Pardi) has cast his lot more and more over time to the country world, although his penchant for inflaming political controversies has ensured his welcome is always a little tentative there, too. “Picture,” his balladic duet with Sheryl Crow (or Allison Moorer, depending on the version), marked his official entry into the genre in 2002, and made it to No 21 on the country chart. Since then, especially as he’s gone independent, his material — pro-Trump, anti-vaccine, etc. — has been on the more belligerent side and rarely fit for airplay. Crow won’t likely ever revive their collaboration again, given his hostile libs-baiting.

Did it work? In 2002, with “Picture,” yes — and at countless country music festivals since, also yes. But his penchant for valuing political trolling above all makes it unlikely his records will ever keep pace with his continued ability to draw a crowd on the redneck festival circuit.

Did he stay? Yes — the presence of Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock N Roll Steakhouse beckoning tourists in Nashville being garish proof of his setting anchor in Tennessee, whether or not he’s the welcome guest at all industry functions he once was. If he ever did return to his native rap or rock, it’d be interesting to see the reception.

Ween

Ween
Ween


For its fifth album and third on a major label, “12 Golden Country Greats,” the band Ween took a left turn and headed straight toward Nashville, with a 1995 genre-exercise record that is still puzzling and (mostly) satisfying to fans. Recalled producer Ben Vaughn to Taste of Country, “I said, ‘OK, if we’re gonna do this, let’s do it the really classic way… let’s book Bradley’s Barn and let’s get Pig Robbins and Charlie McCoy and these guys together. Because, there was that great moment in the ’60s where everybody went to Nashville to record, whether it was Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen or even Buffy Sainte-Marie… When Ween came to me, it was like a flash in my mind: Well, this is one of those kind of records. Nobody does that anymore, a rock act going to Nashville.” Vaughn said some of the veteran session players dropped out after he warned them much of the material was “blue.” The album was heartfelt in its fashion, though: “Ween, the great thing about those two guys, they really are huge country fans. It’s completely sincere, their love for the music.”

Did it work? Obviously, there were no aspirations toward getting on country radio. Vaughn said that “Ween fans tend to be purists about Ween, and country fans have a tendency to be purists, too. So when that record came out, it wasn’t an immediate success with Ween fans. A lot of people were confused and a little bit angry about everything being in tune so perfectly. … Country fans were appalled by it originally, and probably still are, because of the lyrical content of the record.” So, yes, it worked perfectly!

Did they stay? No, perhaps not surprisingly, Ween has not generated another country album in the subsequent 29 years.

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello


Costello has proven as deep an aficionado of classic country music as exists coming in as an artist from the outside. At a time, in 1982, when some people were still a little bit afraid of his mercurial, post-punk attitude, he did the scariest thing he could have possibly done: went to Nashville and cut a very traditional country covers record, “Almost Blue,” with the producer for George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Billy Sherrill. For anyone who’d been paying attention to his still-nascent career, it wasn’t completely out of left field: Costello had written and recorded a couple of straight-up country originals at the outset of his career, “Radio Sweetheart” and “A Stranger in the House,” and done a duet with Jones for a TV taping. But it would be his countrypolitan covers of songs by Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons and others on “Blue” that introduced a generation of rockers to the joy of classic country writing.

Did it work? Costello had no designs on getting these songs on the radio. Some critics balked at the polite sound of the record. And plenty of fans wondered if they could “Trust” Costello after he threw them for this loop. But it stands the test of time.

Did he stay? Costello has delved back into country his whole career, if never for the entirety of another album, the way he did with “Almost Blue.” (The original Americana albums “King of America” and “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane” come close enough.)

Millie Jackson

Millie Jackson
Millie Jackson


Classic R&B fans are sometimes startled to remember, if they ever knew it at all, that Millie Jackson, the queen of sexually irreverent soul in the 1970s, once recorded a straight-up country album. The 1981 record, “Just a Lil Bit Country,” consisted of proven songs like Tammy Wynette’s “Til I Get It Right” and even Kris Kristofferson’s “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams.” It was not a complete outlier in her career, as she’d had a big R&B hit with a Haggard cover four years earlier, but it was radical enough. Writer Charles Hughes recently dug up an interview in which she discussed the album, saying, ““Growing up in the country, we didn’t have Black radio, so I’ve always been a country-rocker at heart… I’ve included at least one country song on just about every album I’ve ever done.” She said she’d “wanted to do a country album for a long time, but [the record company] never let me.”

Did it work? Not commercially, that’s for certain. But as Hughes writes in the Oxford American: “While not a commercial or critical success, and largely forgotten in subsequent decades, ‘Just a Lil’ Bit Country’ is a compelling example of how Black country artists have historically remixed and reimagined a genre that too often ignores or overtly excludes them. It is also a great record.”

Did she stay? Her full-on immersion into country was destined to be a one-time affair But a Bear Family compilation, “On the Soul Country Side,” collects a lot of the C&W covers she spread across albums, like her charting soul hit with a cover of Kenny Rogers’ “Sweet Music Man.”

The Pointer Sisters

The Pointer Sisters
The Pointer Sisters


The Pointer Sisters’ “Fairytale” was only a big hit, but it did win a very significant Grammy in 1974: best country vocal performance by a duo or group — which made them the only Black women to win a Grammy in a country category, before or since. (Bonnie and Anita Pointer were also nominated for best country song as its writers.) That stat gets brought up a lot as we consider the dearth of Black women in country music, especially with Beyonce poised to potentially leapfrog over some of the Black women who’ve been doing it for a while and maybe make those categories competitive again next year. Going back to ’74, anyway, the stylistically diverse Pointers claimed country was as close to their hearts as anything: “Our folks came from Arkansas and we grew up singing country songs. It’s part of us.”

Did it work? Grammy voters thought so. On the country chart, though, it only made it to No. 37, although it got up to No. 13 on the Hot 100. Moreover, it got the Pointers an invitation to sing on the Grand Ole Opry. On Oct. 25, 1974, they became the first Black vocal group to do the Opry.

Did they stay? Anita Pointer did — as a solo artist breaking out from the group, she did a duet with Earl Thomas Conley, “Too Many Times,” that made it to No. 2 on the country chart in ’86.

Tina Turner

Tina Turner
Tina Turner


If only Tina Turner’s career hadn’t been at a fairly low ebb when she made her lone country album, 1974’s “Tina Turns the Country On!,” maybe we could have had a Beyoncé.-style revolution a half-century ago. Turner did get Grammy-nominated for this turn into country — although, unlike the Pointer Sisters, her recognition came in an R&B category. “Tina Turns the Country On!” was her first solo album (although she was still with Ike Turner at the time, and reportedly recorded it at his behest). It found her covering country stalwarts like Dolly Parton, Hank Snow and Kris Kristofferson as well as folk-leaning types like Bob Dylan and James Taylor. Unfortunately, it’s been shockingly out of print over the years (there’s no CD, and a digital download just became available in November). But with the publicity over Tina’s most celebrated acolyte, Beyoncé., making her move into the medium, it feels like a lot of light is about to be shined on this mostly forgotten effort.

Did it work? The album didn’t chart, but it planted seeds.

Did she stay? Country was never going to be a permanent home for Turner, even if country was in her soul. Next up for her after this one-off diversion was the album named after a performance that reintroduced her into the culture as a solo artist in a major way: “Acid Queen.”

Ringo Starr


While John Lennon was starting off his post-Beatles career in the musical equivalent of primal scream therapy, Ringo Starr was doing his tribute to Nashville with “Beaucoups of Blues” in 1970. It was a natural direction to go, in some ways, after he’d popularized Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally” with his old band, then written the original “Don’t Pass Me By” as a comic country knockoff for the White Album.

Did it work? “Beaucoups” is more charming in retrospect than it was for many Beatles fans at the time, who just wanted an album’s worth of original material, if the band was going separate ways at all. Although he used top Nashville session players at the time, it was not the sort of thing to register at country radio.

Did he stay? Ringo got the message soon enough and moved on to recording hit-filled albums like “Ringo.” But, interestingly, he’s just declared that his next album is going to be a full-length country album, his first since 1970.

The Byrds

The Byrds
The Byrds


Moving from folk-rock into pure country with the “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album, the Byrds produced a cross-genre masterpiece. But many of their rock fans were ready to “Turn, Turn, Turn” away from this change of direction, and the band also had its bubble burst when they found out the hard way that acceptance from the Nashville establishment was easier imagined than done. An appearance on the Opry didn’t go especially well, and WSM host Ralph Emery openly scoffed at their attempts to go country when he had the band on the air. (At least they got the future classic “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man,” a song lamenting their putdown by Emery, out of it for their next album.)

Did it work? In terms of immediate commercial impact, no, but as far as changing the course of music history, most assuredly.

Did they stay? Gram Parsons certainly stuck with country, moving onto the Flying Burrito Brothers and then a solo career after this that were just as rooted in traditional sounds, all the way up to his untimely death. And Chris Hillman certainly came back around to it, later forming the Desert Rose Band and carving out a very successful career in the ’80s as a mainstream country artist, in contrast to the Byrds’ more counterculture take.

Ray Charles

Of all the artists here who crossed over from other genres, only one has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in his own right. There’s a reason why everyone with a sense of history leaped to invoke Charles as soon as Beyonce’s leap into country first made headlines, because 1962’s “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” is the definition of successful crossover — not to mention a landmark in Black adaptation of white adaptation of Black music. Was Charles interested in culturally bridging a gap between country and R&B that is much less than most fans of either imagine? Or was he just looking for a different Great American Songbook to mine for covers than the ones he already knew? Either way, he kickstarted a revolution whose progress we still sometimes see only in baby steps.

Did it work? “Modern Sounds” was a smash immediately upon arrival, becoming the No. 1 album in the nation and spawning a single that topped the Hot 10, “I Can’t Stop Love You.” And it continues to be the gold standard when anyone with a mind for musical history thinks of successful crossover. You’d be hard-pressed to find a musical, cultural or chart box it didn’t tick.

Did he stay? Although his move into country hardly dominated the rest of his long and wide-ranging career, Charles enjoyed making return visits — starting with a gold-selling sequel, “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Vol. 2,” released six months later. Billboard didn’t actually count these albums and their singles toward the country charts, oddly but Charles did go on to have 12 later singles officially place as country hits — most of them duets, including a collaboration with Willie Nelson on a No. 1 country smash, “Seven Spanish Angels.” (He also cut duets with George Jones, Hank Williams Jr., Mickey Gilley and others.) Charles was back singing alongside Nelson on his final Grammy-winning album, “Genius Loves Company,” in 2004. He was inducted posthumously into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2021 — the only time that’s happened for an artist who did most of his recordings outside of the genre.

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