Music

Reyna Roberts, Alice Randall Highlight Black Contributions to Country Music at Nashville Event

The contributions of Black artists to country music have been marginalized, minimized, and, in some cases, wholly erased from the genre’s history. A group of songwriters, singers, activists, and journalists aimed to set the record straight on Wednesday during a live panel discussion in Nashville. Dubbed “Act III: A Conversation Around ‘Three Chords and the Actual Truth,’” the event was presented by the Black Music Action Coalition and the org’s co-founder, president, and CEO, Willie “Prophet” Stiggers.

Scholar and songwriter Alice Randall, who co-wrote Trisha Yearwood’s 1995 Number One “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl),” kicked off the event in conversation with moderator Naima Cochrane and walked the audience through what she called “the first family of Black Country.” “Black genius has been constantly denied in America,” Randall said, before highlighting the impact that artists like DeFord Bailey, Charley Pride, Ray Charles, and Lesley Riddle — who greatly shaped the music of the Carter Family — had on the genre.

Reyna Roberts — one of the featured artists on Beyoncé’s rendition of “Blackbiird” on Cowboy Carter — and Daisha “The Rap Girl” McBride eventually joined Cochrane and Randall to further the conversation. “This is Music City, not just country Music City. There is space for everybody here,” McBride said. “There are other genres here that deserve a little bit of shine as well.”

Roberts, backed by her band, would go on to perform at the end of the event, showing off a voice that has won raves from Carrie Underwood to Mickey Guyton. The CMA apparently took notice too: Roberts was recently added to the CMA Fest nightly concerts lineup at Nissan Stadium, where she’ll perform the national anthem on Thursday, June 6. (She’ll play her own songs at the Hard Rock Stage the next day.)

Along with the country history panel, the event included an announcement by the BMAC that it is developing legislation for guaranteed income for communities in the state of Tennessee. Rep. Justin Pearson — one of the “Tennessee Three” — was on hand to discuss the initiative with Stiggers and Mayor Michael Tubbs of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. “We collectively have to organize, mobilize, and be activated to push for legislation that is going to guarantee income for people in the state of Tennessee,” Pearson said.

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Photo: Jason Davis/Getty Images for Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC)

The Nashville event was the third in a series of national panels organized by the BMAC to correct Black inclusion and recognition in the country music industry. Act II was held in L.A. in April, while Act I kicked off the campaign in New York in March. Act III was built around the 2022 report “Three Chords and the Actual Truth: The Manufactured Myth of Country Music and White America,” a 45-page look at Black contributions to country music and how they’ve been undermined.

The BMAC presented the Nashville event in partnership with Vibe, Songwriters of North America, Mayors for Guaranteed Income, and the Ogunlesi Group.

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