Beyoncé’s new country songs salute the genre’s black cultural roots – The Washington Post

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If you were surprised by the two country songs Beyoncé sang Sunday night, hold your horses — this isn’t her first rodeo.

In fact, fans have long speculated that such a gender-bending project from the pop icon was imminent: There was the custom Louis Vuitton cut she wore to the Grammys last week — complete with a ribbon to tie, a studded leather jacket and a matching skirt. , plus a Stetson cowboy hat. A source told Variety in 2022 that Beyoncé had recorded “country-leaning tracks.” Not to mention, the Houston native has always returned to her country roots — from her lyrics (“I’m going back to the South… Where my roots aren’t watered down”) and her past performances with artists like Sugarland and the Chicks, to her rodeo appearances and his western aesthetic in his Ivy Park clothing line. (“The Houston Rodeo is a gumbo of family, connection, delicious food and eclectic musical genres,” she said of the inspiration for this latest project.)

After unveiling new music in a Verizon commercial airing Sunday during Super Bowl LVIII, Beyoncé released two country-Americana-inspired hits, “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages.” The singles are the first releases from his long-awaited project “Act II”, which will debut on March 29 as a follow-up to his acclaimed Act I album “Renaissance” in 2022.

“Texas Hold ‘Em” is an upbeat, banjo-heavy track likely to inspire a new TikTok dance trend as Beyoncé sings, “It’s a real live boogie and a real live hoedown.” Meanwhile, “16 Carriages,” a haunting and intimate ballad about Beyoncé’s childhood, features powerful steel guitar and organ that nod to Southern gospel influences.

Fans and music experts say the two releases once again confirm rumors that Act II will be a full-length country album – and herald another music culture-changing event.

“I anticipate that this album is going to take us in a direction that both refines and redefines what country is and takes country to another level,” said Alice Randall, songwriter, author and study professor. African American and Diaspora at Vanderbilt University. . “That he deconstructs and rebuilds the country. That’s what modern country and western sounds do.

Randall highlighted the impact of Beyoncé’s first country song, “Daddy Lessons,” a vibrant single that many critics considered one of the best tracks from the star’s 2016 album “Lemonade.” In a historic and widely shared moment at the Country Music Awards, Beyoncé performed the song with the Chicks, who later released their own cover. And he is credited with influencing “The Yeehaw Agenda,” an Internet movement aimed at reclaiming black cowboy culture through music and fashion.

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But “Daddy Lessons” also exposed the deep divisions that still roile the country music industry. There was an outcry from some country music fans who thought the song did not belong in the genre. And the Recording Academy apparently agreed, rejecting the song from consideration of the country music categories at the Grammys. These events echo the barriers that black artists have often faced throughout the genre’s more than 100-year history — from Ray Charles to Lil Nas

Darius Rucker, a Grammy-winning country singer with 10 No. 1 hit songs, has often recounted the resistance he encountered after leaving the rock group Hootie & the Blowfish to pursue country music. “When I first started doing radio stations and stuff, I had people saying to my face, ‘My audience would never accept a black country singer,'” Rucker told ET Canada. in an interview last year.

But black artists have long influenced the genre, starting with the banjo.

Musicologists believe the precursor to the plucked instrument originated in Africa and arrived on American shores in the 17th century with slaves brought from west and central Africa. “As I understand black country music, it dates back to the arrival of the first black child of an enslaved African woman in these Americas,” said Randall, whose upcoming book, “My Black Country,” chronicles the influence black in country music’s past. , present and future.

“You know the banjo is an African instrument, right?! »: The black roots of country music

In her book, she examines the little-known roles of Louis Armstrong and Lil Hardin Armstrong on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel #9,” which scholars consider one of the most influential country songs of all time; spotlights Florence (Givens) Joplin as a lost ancestor of the genre; and chronicles the modern contributions of Beyoncé, whose work has long echoed a commitment to honoring and drawing inspiration from legends of black music and history.

In “Texas Hold ‘Em,” for example, Beyoncé features acclaimed Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens on banjo and viola. The Greensboro, North Carolina native is considered a folk music icon and has dedicated her work to honoring the unsung heroes of American musical history.

A virus job on social media, posted hours after Beyoncé’s release, highlighted Giddens’ plea. “This whole album is going to be like a lesson in the roots of country music,” one user responded.

Indeed, just as she acknowledged black queer and ballroom culture with “Renaissance,” Randall suspects that a potential country music album from the singer will showcase black artistry in the genre.

“She’s a true cultural conservative,” Randall said. “Even going back to ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Daddy Lessons,’ a lot of people forget that a significant portion of the cowboys were people of color. Beyoncé’s album and video helped some people remember it or inspired them to learn it.

In doing so, Randall said, Beyoncé highlights and builds on a deep tradition — a path that the scholar said was first forged by Ray Charles.

“For me, one of the greatest albums in the history of country music is Ray Charles’ ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music,’” Randall said. Charles’ music experimented with jazz, gospel, and rhythm and blues before releasing the famous country album in 1962.

“I think Beyoncé’s album is a similar moment,” she said. “She’s going to do with this new album what Ray Charles did with [his album]. And I think she will go even further if we are to believe what she has already done in her country.

But Randall is wary of the reception Beyoncé might receive, noting, “Ray Charles didn’t get these flowers initially.”

“I hope the country music establishment welcomes this album and Beyoncé’s presence the way we should have welcomed Ray Charles all along,” she said. (Charles was not inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame until 2022 – although critics have often cited his work in reviving and introducing the genre to new listeners.)

“I hope Beyoncé gets the welcome that Ray Charles didn’t get.”

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