Beyoncé fans hope her new album brings more visibility to Black country artists

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The Beyhive is busting out its cowboy hats and breaking out in line dances.

After the singer debuted two country singles, “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages,” on Sunday during the Super Bowl, some country enthusiasts hoped that Beyoncé’s star power would help bring more recognition for Black artists within the genre. Many people also pointed out country’s roots in the African diaspora and believed Beyoncé’s venture into country would be an act of reclaiming the music, which has often been perceived as a genre for white men.

“I hope this is going to open up some people’s eyes to country music,” said Reyna Roberts, a Nashville-based singer who has previously opened for Reba McEntire. “Just [with] Beyoncé releasing her music, in the past day I’ve probably gained like 12,000 fans just from people looking at Black Country music.”

Beyoncé’s's new album, Cowboy Carter, dropped Friday.

Many of Beyoncé’s fans — collectively known as the Beyhive — have been anticipating a full country album from the Texas-born singer since she released the song “Daddy Lessons” in 2016. As fans patiently await Act II, which releases March 29, they have started looking for other Black country artists to listen to in the meantime.

As TikTok users have posted their love for Beyoncé’s new “country era,” the platform’s algorithm has served them content from smaller Black country artists.

Julie Williams, an independent artist based in Nashville, posted a TikTok calling for more recognition and attention to Black country artists as people began posting about Beyoncé’s singles.

Williams said in an interview that she is optimistic that more people will become interested in country music because Beyoncé is “the creator of culture.”

“Black music is country music,” she added. “My hope is that in this era of Beyoncé, those lines will be blurred and people will discover country and country artists and will begin to innovate and bring amazing changes to the genre that have been needed for so long.”

Williams said that some progress has been made in recent years as platforms such as TikTok and YouTube have allowed marginalized country artists to surpass the “gatekeepers” in mainstream country radio. In 2019, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” became one of the first TikTok hits and exposed a wider audience to a new kind of country sound. However, it was controversial among country fans, leading Billboard to take it off the genre’s charts.

The industry has still been slow to adapt, Williams said, despite calls to elevate Black country artists in subsequent years. She pointed out that women make up a small percentage of airtime on country radio — 11% in the entirety of 2022. The figure shrinks almost to zero when it comes to Black female artists.

Francesca T. Royster, a professor of English at DePaul University and the author of “Black Country Music,” said that Black musicians’ contributions to the country genre have historically been made invisible by the industry. Modern country, she said, was born out of minstrel traditions that used blackface and turned Black music into a joke for white audiences.

As the music became mainstream, its origins in Black culture and creativity were erased, Royster said.

Beyoncé’s move into country music is an “important gesture of taking up space," she said.

“Country can potentially be this bigger thing that lots of people are participating in, even though I do think that there’s still this older sense of nostalgia and defensiveness that can be connected to country."

Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” project saw her elevate Black pioneers in house, ballroom and disco, and some fans think that she will do the same with country artists.

Williams said that Beyoncé has already started to reference Black country trailblazers. She pointed out that “Texas Hold ‘Em” starts with banjo playing from Rhiannon Giddens, a Grammy-winning country and Americana artist.

Giddens is known for her educational work around banjos. She led a documentary series called “The Banjo: Music, History and Heritage” last year that focuses on the instrument’s origins among the African diaspora, its role in slavery and its popularization in American music.

“I used to say many times as soon as Beyoncé puts the banjo on a track my job is done,” Giddens wrote in a Facebook post. “Well, I didn’t expect the banjo to be mine, and I know darn well my job isn’t done, but today is a pretty good day.”

A representative for Giddens did not respond to a request for comment.

“I think that it’s a huge statement right there in the first few lines of the song that shows the banjo is a Black instrument,” Williams said. “It was created by slaves. And this is an incredible Black artist who has been a champion of educating so many folks on that history, through her music and through playing it.”

Beyonce’s new album will show that country music can appeal to Black audiences and people of color, Williams said. Country music has long been perceived as a patriotic genre and the domain of white men.

“There’s a space in this genre that so often has not felt safe, has not felt comfortable,” Williams said. “And so my hope is that as we bring in this new wave of folks and that we will change the country music industry at shows, making sure that it is a comfortable place for fans to be.”

While the response to Beyoncé’s singles has been positive among fans, there has been resistance. Oklahoma radio station KYKC received backlash after one person tried to request “Texas Hold ‘Em.” The radio station had said that it does not “play Beyoncé as we are a country music station.”

Roger Harris, general manager of South Central Oklahoma Radio Enterprises (S.C.O.R.E.) which owns KYKC, said the station was unaware that Beyoncé had released country songs when the request was made. Harris said KYKC is a “small station” that doesn’t “get serviced by the big labels like bigger stations do.”

“As we got more and more emails...and more and more phone calls, we made an effort to track down the song,” Harris said in an email. He said the song was added to the country station’s playlist and the libraries of two other S.C.O.R.E. stations.

Still, Roberts, the country singer, said it was indicative of the challenges facing Black artists who try to get airplay on country radio.

“If it’s hard for Beyoncé to get played on country radio, how hard do you think it is for artists like me trying to get played on country radio?” she said. “Hopefully it opens people’s eyes to seeing how difficult it is for Black women, and just people of color in general, to be played in country music and to get the recognition and the platforms and the stuff that other artists have.”

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