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The Exponent

Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ sparks conversation over Black origins of country music

Konnner Hiness
Courtney Robinson, pictured with Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter artwork on display at the Black Cultural Center.

On March 29, Beyoncé made her iconic country debut with her 8th studio album, “Cowboy Carter,” sparking conversation among students about their knowledge of country music.

Feb. 11 marked the release of the first two singles of “Cowboy Carter.” “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” and “16 CARRIAGES” were teased in a collaboration with Verizon’s Superbowl advertisement where she closes Act I of Renaissance and said, “Drop the new music.”

The songs were met with great acceptance from her fanbase, the BeyHive, many anticipating that the next Act of her three-act project would be country.

“When I heard speculation over country, I was like, okay, she’s coming to make her space and genres where she feels like she hasn’t been welcomed and that our community hasn’t been represented despite its origin,” said Jordan Moore-Stone,. a sophomore music industry student.

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However, while the BeyHive and other surrounding fans welcomed her change in genres, some radio stations reacted differently.

“We do not play Beyoncé on KYKC as we are a country radio station,” said Oklahoma’s KYKC- FM.

This caused major backlash from fans and non-fans of the singer such as Chris Uzor, a first-year cybersecurity student who said it’s “outright racism.”

“What she’s singing about isn’t much different than what other white artists would think about in country and so on,” Uzor said.

Courtney Robinson, associate director of Cultural Programming, Inclusion and Belonging in the Center of Inclusion, said she is “simply not surprised.”

“Country music has been whitewashed, and who’s allowed to do what genre and who’s allowed to show up and what space is. So, I wasn’t surprised at all and I’m very excited to see the network’s carefully,” Robinson said. “I’m excited to see us taking those spaces, taking up space in spaces that didn’t want us and didn’t want to welcome us and now they have no choice but to open the doors and let us in.”

Despite withholdings of airplay, Beyoncé still claimed her No. 1 hit with “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM.”

Most consider the singer’s first country song to be “Daddy Lessons” from her 6th studio album, Lemonade. The album was not only met controversy due to her political stance on police brutality against black people, but also her first performance crossover into the country genre at the Country Music Awards.

The 2016 performance featured a performance of “Daddy Lessons” alongside country royalty, The Dixie Chicks. Many viewers and country stars were shocked by the singer’s performance, causing an abundance of backlash and ultimately ending with the performance being taken down from the Country Music Association website, with many speculations due to racism.

“She’s going to do it for her own. I think that that’s incredibly telling for the CMA to take the video down or you know, try to disassociate themselves from the fact that that song was performed on their stage, which is very telling,” Moore-Stone said.

However, Beyoncé has pushed through challenges earlier in her career. After the release of her 2018 collaboration with husband Jay-Z, “Everything is Love,” she revealed she began gathering her lyrical lasso for “Cowboy Carter.”

The album was hinted at by the singer, along with featuring recording artist Miley Cyrus, through social media and an Ivy Park x Adidas Rodeo Campaign. The album was then shelved to purse her 7th studio album and what we know as Act I, Renaissance, where she said she felt more compelled to release something more uplifting after the dark times of the pandemic.

However, “Cowboy Carter” was soon released as Act II.

“I feel like our first albums were very much like a template. They were all kind of the same format,” Robisnon said. “And I really appreciate how her last album she’s kind of just given us art, not what she thinks we want but what she wants to create it she showed us her true artistry.”

Recently, it was proven the origins of country music were founded by Black people, which is a key element of “Cowboy Carter” and the singer’s personal stake in the album.

Despite being from Texas, Uzor said they are not the biggest fan of country. However, he, like Robinson and Moore-Stone, shared he had little knowledge of the Black cultural origins of country music including the Linda Martell Story.

Linda Martell was the first commercially successful Black woman in country music, and the first Black female solo act to play the “Grand Ole Opry.” The country industry failed to recognize her career’s true potential, but her impact lives on in a featured track on “Cowboy Carter” called “THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW.”

While the album follows predominantly generalized country instrumental elements, Beyoncé made it clear when she said, “This ain’t a country album, it’s a Beyoncé Album.”

Paying tribute to the greats, Beyoncé covers “Jolene” with Dolly Parton listed as the head songwriter. Miley Cyrus, Post Malone, and Willie Jones were also featured on the heavy country tracks.

Additionally, she features newer Black country artists such as Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy and Reyna Roberts in her cover of “BLACKBIIRD.” This Beatles classic was recorded with inspiration from young black women during the civil rights movement. Beyoncé’s daughter, Rumi Carter, also made a feature on “PROTECTOR.”

The singer still left room for Funk with her track “YAYA,” and showed off an R&B and country mix on “TYRANT.”

Spotify announced Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter” as the most streamed album in a single day in 2024 so far, with the album projecting to chart No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

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