Which country singers are from NY

The African American Influence on the Country : This country is our country

"Hard times / come again no more" proclaims - or implores - Miko Marks on her new album "Our Country". She knows what she sings about: as an African American woman in the country genre, hard times are the soundtrack of her life. From this specific experience, trained in gospel, she turns it into a song in which there is space for everyone - just as country could be.

But the genre has its own laws, and one thing is that times should never be too difficult, no matter how broken the world is. In February 2020 one of the most played songs on American country radio was "I Wish Grandpas Never Died" by Riley Green. Grandpas shouldn't die, our boys should come home safe, the beer should never run out: Green presents these republican kindergarten wishes with so much disarming naivety that he lets forget for a moment that disarming is certainly not on his wish list.

A little later, Grandpa's death seemed to be negotiable for many people if it was the price for “freedom” (i.e. open bars and fitness centers). In the middle of the Corona summer, country musicians played in front of thousands of fans in halls without a mask or distance, Riley Green himself performed in Jacksonville, Alabama at the end of November. Two weeks later, the numbers skyrocketed there.

Not only did Covid-19 divide the already deeply divided country genre even further in recent months. Racism, southern heritage, sexism, aesthetics and morals: all these topics race against each other in huge trucks while the industry covers its ears and drowns out the noise with nice words over the blue sky under which we all live.

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The situation is so dramatic that the CMA Awards had to explicitly announce in November that it would be a “no drama zone”. The most important country award wanted to show that the genre is absolutely zero racist, because after all, two of its most successful artists are black.

Darius Rucker, formerly with Hootie & the Blowfish and long active in the country, led through the event together with Reba McEntire and sang "In The Ghetto" with her. Charley Pride, the most successful black country singer since the sixties, received the Lifetime Achievement Award. (A month later, the five-time grandfather died of Covid-19 at the age of 86.)

A genre that wants to absolve itself of racism by putting its only two really successful black artists on stage and having one of them sing a song by Elvis, of course, proves its racism problem all the more.

The reaction to this insight is outside of the genre, outside of the USA anyway, giggling and mocking: Country is just redneck music, the soundtrack of Trump and bigotry. But those who dismiss country in this way not only miss deep music about social rifts and great struggles, but also ignore the courageous artists who love the genre and want to change it.

Because even if it is difficult to find black stars in the genre beyond Rucker and Pride: Country was never just white. The “Anthology of American Folk Music” already told us how close delta blues, cowboy ballads and songs about rivers and mountains were as original American songs, before the emerging music industry invented segregated genre labels such as “hillbilly music” and “race records” .

In the sixties, Ray Charles covered country songs and showed how much R’n’B there was in them; in the seventies, Southern soul and outlaw country kept coming together. But the revolution did not materialize: country and country were too segregated for that. Borders remain, doors are closed.

Rejection and ignorance in Nashville

Miko Marks' career shows how the country mainstream is pushing against these doors from behind. On the cover of her debut album “Freeway Bound” from 2005, she beamed into the camera with a dark cowboy hat, her songs were about everyday life and freedom, motherhood and longing: real country. She was briefly traded as a new star in Nashville. And then the machine woke up and chased Marks out of town with cold apathy, and with mostly unspoken rejection, shook her self-image lastingly.

Marks has not released an album for 14 years. Her new work entitled “Our Country” will be released on Friday, and it can be read proudly, melancholy or defiantly. Today, she told the New York Times, there are no songs about tractors, but about racism and social injustice. It is an album about the present, past and future, which in America form an almost inescapable tangle of violence, lies and hope.

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“I wish the price of gas was low and the cotton was high”, on the other hand, is what Riley Green wishes and shows how poison can be found in the most harmonious country image. The southern myth is part of the genre, even Johnny Cash, often misunderstood as a progressive rebel, recorded a tribute song to Confederate general Robert E. Lee in the 1980s. Its statues, along with those of other secessionists and war criminals, were overthrown in the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

Belief in American myths is gone

These plinths were more than just a fight for historical truth: Black activists made their homeland, the southern states, a little more livable. Singer Adia Victoria, who brings country and blues together, wrote the soundtrack for the song “South Gotta Change”: Because I love you I will never leave you, but you have to change, she sings like someone in a not yet incurably toxic Relationship. Miko Marks no longer has so much hope: “Goodnight America, your dream has died” she says goodbye and yet suggests how important it would be to be able to believe in American myths.

Marks lives in Oakland, Victoria in Nashville, but both stay away from the mainstream, both in terms of content and music. The singer Mickey Guyton, on the other hand, tries one last time to open the doors with her EP "Bridges". With great productions, rousing hooks and dramatic vocals, the songs are suitable for radio in the best sense of the word. For this, Guyton was nominated at the Grammys as the first black artist ever in a country category.

But Guyton is not at all sure whether she really wants to get into the heart of the industry, and whether she can take responsibility for inspiring other black artists to try it in the mainstream, when it is still racist and more aggressive whiteness is shaped. At the moment, nobody stands for these structures as much as Morgan Wallen, who stumbles higher and higher over N-word scandals and Corona stupidity and gets fifth and sixth chances.

Still, there are other whites in the country like that dirt kid Tyler Childers from Kentucky, who supports Black Lives Matter, or the cranky Sturgill Simpson, who called Donald Trump a “fascist pig” in 2017. The supergroup highwomen around Brandi Carlilewill are making the genre more feminine and even has the pitfalls of white feminism in mind.

Of course, they are all rarely or not played on the market-defining radio. Mickey Guyton also had to sing "Black Like Me" at the Grammys before it appeared in the playlists. It remains to be seen whether this will lead to something positive or whether the story of Miko Marks will repeat itself.

It is this fear that gives Guyton's EP a fragile pathos: a black artist who, despite all disappointments and injuries, still believes in country, begs the genre to love her. Contrary to all market logic, the industry is reluctant to open up to it and the future, no matter how catchy the songs and conciliatory the messages are. Country is white, that is the lie that not only country despisers tell, but also the industry itself - if it is punished for its downfall. But she won't be able to lock the doors forever.

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