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Encouraging diversity in country

Country Standard Time Editorial, March 1998

The role of black artists in country has been downplayed over the years in what has pretty much been the territory of white artists.

That is true despite the common socioeconomic thread that has run through black and white southern cultures.

About the only artist in recent decades who has done much of anything is Charley Pride, and even his most recent chart success was most recently 16 years ago.

But recently the role of blacks gained increased attention. Warner and the Country Music Foundation put out ˛From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music˛ in February. The three-CD, 60-track set features black artists dating back to Deford Bailey in the 1920šs to the soulful sounds of Ray Charles to the more recent era of Pride.

Unfortunately, the recent past has been quite dismal for black artists. Cleve Francis released several discs on Capitol, before he lost his deal. And the list pretty much stops there.

Recently, however, Trini Triggs signed with Curb, while Wheels, a soul-oriented country band, inked with Asylum.

It will be interesting to see if either can make any dent. But donšt hold your breath based on the past. Not to mention the difficulty new artists encounter no matter what their background.

Another sign of the role of blacks in country was the formation a year ago of the Minority Country Music Association in Nashville. Numbering only about 60 members, the group nevertheless has been active in promoting the role of blacks in country and holding showcases.

Lord knows country could use fresh air and contributions from different segments of our society. Country certainly is not only the purview of a white society. Efforts such as that by Warner - certainly not a big moneymaker - and the start of the black organization should be recognized and encouraged.