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Darius Rucker has won a Grammy and scored 10 No. 1 hits since going solo — but not before he was repeatedly told he’d be unable to overcome racism in country music.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t think I would have much success. And when I started doing the radio stations and stuff, I had people say to me, to my face, ‘My audience would never accept a Black country singer,’” he told ET Canada in an interview published on Thursday, August 10. “That’s something that I was like, ‘Okay, just play the record, let’s see?’ And then they did.”
Rucker, who was frontman of the band Hootie and the Blowfish until his departure in 2008, quickly proved his naysayers wrong. His first single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” debuted at No. 1 later that year, making him the first Black artist to reach number one on the Hot Country Songs charts since the legendary Charley Pride did so in 1983.
“I wasn’t worried about it ’cause I just want to make records, you know?” he said. “I mean, I wasn’t sitting around going, ‘Oh my God, you know, I’m going to be the Black guy in country.'”
While there was “nobody that looked like” Rucker in country music at the time, the singer confessed he “didn’t expect to be the one to break down the wall” — but he’s happy to have inspired change.
“Here we are. And I love seeing Kane [Brown] and all those guys over there [who are having] all this great success,” he said. “That’s great to see and I’m proud that I was part of that.”
Other songs among Rucker’s No. 1 hits include "It Won't Be Like This for Long,” "Alright,” "Come Back Song,” "This,” "If I Told You,” and "For the First Time" and he has won a Grammy, an ACM and a CMA award for his solo music. (Rucker also won two Grammys in 1996 with Hootie and the Blowfish.)
Rucker told ET on Thursday that young artists should take solace in knowing that the perspective of record labels has changed. “You see all the labels now actively searching for African-American artists or Hispanic artists, artists of color,” he explained.
Despite the progress made within the music industry, Rucker has still continued to face racism throughout his career. After he covered Bob Dylan's "Wagon Wheel" at the Grand Ole Opry in May 2013, he responded to a tweet that told him to “Leave country to the white folk."
Rucker, for his part, responded: "WOW. Is this 2013 or 1913? I'll take my grand ole Opry membership and leave your racism. Wow."
Fans quickly tweeted in support of Rucker, who then assured made it clear that racism wouldn’t prevent him from continuing to put out records.
"Gotta go to bed this has been hilarious tonight," he wrote. "If any hater thinks I care what u think. I don't make music for u. So don't listen."
In 2020, Rucker was outspoken about his support of the Black Lives Matter movement — “Racism is not a born thing; it is a taught thing,” he wrote via Instagram at the time. When discussing the topic during an appearance on the Today show later that month, the musician explained that there is a risk involved with being candid about sensitive issues in country music.
"Proven. Look at the Dixie Chicks, the biggest thing in the business, they say one sentence, every station stops playing their music. That's the dumbest thing I ever heard in my life. You know, it wasn't about their politics, it was about their music,” he said. "You become a rich Black man and you think racism goes away. It doesn't. There's people that hate you more because you're rich."