Black Country Music
2023 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
How Black musicians have changed the country music landscape and brought light to Black creativity and innovation.
After a century of racist whitewashing, country music is finally reckoning with its relationship to Black people. In this timely work—the first book on Black country music by a Black writer—Francesca Royster uncovers the Black performers and fans, including herself, who are exploring the pleasures and possibilities of the genre.
Informed by queer theory and Black feminist scholarship, Royster’s book elucidates the roots of the current moment found in records like Tina Turner’s first solo album, Tina Turns the Country On! She reckons with Black “bros” Charley Pride and Darius Rucker, then chases ghosts into the future with Valerie June. Indeed, it is the imagination of Royster and her artists that make this music so exciting for a genre that has long been obsessed with the past. The futures conjured by June and others can be melancholy, and are not free of racism, but by centering Black folk Royster begins to understand what her daughter hears in the banjo music of Our Native Daughters and the trap beat of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” A Black person claiming country music may still feel a bit like a queer person coming out, but, collectively, Black artists and fans are changing what country music looks and sounds like—and who gets to love it.