Wednesday, February 17, 2021
– Luke Combs apologized for participating in a video with Confederate flags in a Country Radio Seminar panel on Wednesday.
This was the first comment by Combs on the issue, which surfaced following Morgan Wallen's racist comment using the N word on Jan. 30. Combs appeared in a 2015 video with country rapper Ryan Upchurch. Combs displayed a Confederate flag on his acoustic guitar.
Combs participated in a panel discussion discussing race issues in country music with Maren Morris, who has been outspoken on the topic, and journalist Anne Powers of NPR Radio.
Combs recently released the song "The Great Divide" with bluegrass guitarist Billy Strings, a song about the divisions in the country.
"When I released the song, there were some images that kind of resurfaced of me," Combs said. "That's not the first time that those images have surfaced and been used against me. Obviously, those are images that I can't take back. Obviously, those are not images that I can...say they don't exist. I've grown a lot as a man, as a citizen of the world."
Combs indicated he knew those Confederate flag images would be an issue when he organized a management team. "Obviously, in the age of internet, those things live forever. There is no excuse for those images. It is not okay that they were there."
"I'm now aware of how painful that image can mean to someone else," Combs said of the flag. "No matter what I thought...I would never want to be associated with something that brings so much hurt to someone else. It's not about history, about this or that. It's about this is something hurts someone else. It was something that I stood in front of. It's upsetting to me. I want o people to feel accepted, to be be welcomed by country music."
"I do apologize for that," Combs said. I apologize for being associated with that. Hate is not part of my core values. It is not something I consider part of myself at all."
"I'm here to say I'm trying to learn," he said. "I'm trying to get better. I know I'm a highly visible member of the country music community right now. People can change...I'm one of those people trying. You should be able to do it and have these conversations."
A Texas native, Morris said, "I did not know what the rebel flag meant until I was probably 15 or 16 years old. ...That southern pride the South will rase again. Those were just terms thrown around."
"A large portion of people who listen to country music don't know the deeper meaning of what the flag signifies," said Morris, who has been quite outspoken on social media and discussions about racial issues in country music.
Morris made it clear she had a big issue with display of the Confederate flag at festivals. "I see the Confederate flags in those parking lots. I don't want to play those Festivals any more. If you were a black person, would you ever feel safe?...No."
Morris said musicians could take a stand against the flag. "That's one of things we can do," Morris said. "No. I'm not doing them...There is no place for that any more."
Combs tended to agree with Morris throughout the hour-long live session. "If I were a Black man or a Black woman, and I'd go (to) that, this is not a place I'm being welcomed. I never considered that until seven or eight years ago. It's something that's not really talked about in the south."
"I'd like to think that most people are unfamiliar with that," he said. "I'm not making excuses for anyone. We're all trying to get better."
Combs made it clear the flag did not have to be the symbol of Southern pride. "There are so many things beyond the Rebel flag that we can do to be proud of being from the South. You can go plant a vegetable garden of heirloom plants that your family used to plant 200 years ago. You can cook a meal that your grandparents made. Those are things that I do to (show) I'm proud to be from North Carolina. I'm proud to be a rural guy. You don't need a flag to be proud that you're from the south. It doesn't have to be a part of that. Unfortunately, we're still figuring it out."
Combs underscored the point that country music needs to step it up on racial issues. "There are things that need to change and taking a moment to be aware of that and to know that there are problems that exist is the first step.
Just say these things do happen. Let's not say they don't. I'm here to learn. I'm kind of at this highly successful moment of my career. I couldn't just sit back and not do anything. I want people to know that we as a (genre) care about this issue."
Combs urged country officials to be more open to diversity. "If you're a publisher and a Black writer comes in, are you giving them the same look that they're giving me when I come in. Take a minute of your day and think maybe 'what I have done' even if it's subconsciously and you're not aware of it...If you work at a label, are you giving everybody the same chance that the last guy had or the next girl has?...Everyone deserves the same chance."
Powers wondered if there was a tendency not to speak out on racial issues that could be upsetting to the country music family.
Morris said people need to be called out if necessary for inappropriate actions on racial issues. ""Call 'em out if you really love something, and this is something (that) you love, it. You love country music, call it out so you can rid it...All feel that we are a bit of our family."
"This protecting our own, it's not protecting Black people," she said. "It's protecting white people."
Morris said she appreciated Wallen's comments, asking his fans not to defend his comments.