Some of country music’s top voices recently spoke out against racism and the lack of artists of color on country radio, as part of CBS This Morning’s new series “Unifying America,” which aims to highlight people trying to cross the racial and cultural divide that separate so many Americans.
Vince Gill, a 21-time Grammy winner and the singer-songwriter behind country classics including “Whenever You Come Around” and “Go Rest High On That Mountain,” admitted to the outlet that he was “nervous” to speak on the topic. “Your intentions can be so good and then you can get just ripped.”
Is country music going through a reckoning?
As part of our new series #UnifyingAmerica, @AnthonyMasonCBS spoke with Vince Gill (@VGcom), @MarenMorris, @RyanHurd & @RissiPalmer about the state of country music right now. pic.twitter.com/tywtXp9Jg6
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) February 17, 2021
Gill noted that the country music listener often seems to be more conservative than the artists and industry that are bringing fans the music.
“I think most people perceive that country music is extremely conservative and I’m not sure that’s true. Maybe the audience might be conservative, I don’t know that the artistry is. I don’t know that the community is, so there’s a rub in there.” He said that as an artist, he supported Brothers Osborne member TJ Osborne recently coming out as gay. “I thought that was spectacular,” Gill says.
Maren Morris and her husband, fellow singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd, also praised Osborne.
“He is such an amazing human and it takes so much strength to make that statement in our genre and I think you are seeing a lot of these little moments add up to something really big.” Hurd said.
Gill also gave his thoughts on the usage of racial slurs in music.
“In white America, when they make the argument, ‘Well, I hear it in rap music all the time,’ have you not been paying attention the last 300 or 400 years and how that word has been used by the white community? It’s derogatory, just dismissive, hurtful, it doesn’t have a place.”
Gill also noted that female artists of all races have fought a similar battle to get their music played on country radio. An examination of Billboard’s year-end country charts found that between 2014-2018, 84% of artists on the country radio charts were male. And while some artists of color, such as Darius Rucker, Kane Brown and Jimmie Allen have found success on country radio, there are many other artists of color who have been denied radio airtime, record deals, publishing deals and more.
“Women in country music could make the same claim to some degree that Black artists could—that they haven’t been made to feel welcome,” said Gill, adding he feels country radio—and the country music community as a whole—would do well to focus on inclusion of female artists and artists of color.
“I’m someone who adores what they do. I think we would be better for it.”
During the CMA Awards in 2020, Morris won Female Vocalist of the Year. She used her acceptance speech to highlight Black women who have made contributions to country music, including Linda Martell, Mickey Guyton and Rissi Palmer.
“I think the only way we can move forward is by deconstructing our view of what the genre is built on and acknowledging at its roots is racism and cultural appropriation, and completely disjoin that mentality going forward,” said Morris, who will also appear today (Feb. 17) at music industry event Country Radio Seminar (CRS) alongside Luke Combs to discuss accountability in country music.
“The world is looking at us right now. People are starting to speak up. We are not protecting our own with this wall of silence because we are afraid we might be get canceled next. It’s like, ‘No, we are all becoming more accountable,'” she continued.
When Palmer’s “Country Girl” broke into the Top 40 on the country charts in 2007, Palmer became the first Black female artist to do so in two decades. Palmer says she knew the uphill battle that would be required to pursue her career.
“I knew in the very beginning that there weren’t a lot of women who looked like me. And I knew that was gonna be a mountain I was gonna have to climb. But I love the music. I love the songwriting I love the storytelling how it makes me feel. I’m a fan…It’s heartbreaking. I’ve been turned away at my own shows, trying to get onstage and a security guard wasn’t going to let let me onstage and I was like, ‘They are calling my name right now.’”
Palmer hosts Apple Music program Color Me Country, which welcomes country artists of color to highlight Black, Indigenous and Latinx histories of country music that have been marginalized.
“It’s my contribution to the reckoning or the change that I want to change in Nashville,” Palmer explains.
When asked if she sees change happening in Nashville, she says, “In some sectors, yes. We’ll see…we’ll see in hiring practices, we’ll see in signings, we’ll see in how the charts look.”
Palmer says despite the lack of artists of color on the country charts right now, she feels country music is ready for a change.
“The thing is, they are going to have to be, because there is an influx of artists of color. It’s time.”