Country Music Recognizes Its Roots as 2 Black Artists Hit No. 1
“If someone asked me two years ago if I thought that this would be my life today—that I’d be on the red carpet at the CMAs or my song would be the No. 1 song on country radio, I would have honestly said no,” country singer Jimmie Allen said in a press release following the revelation that his debut single, “Best Shot,” premiered in the No. 1 spot, making him the first black artist to launch his country career with a No. 1 single.
If that isn’t a major harbinger of change in the typically white-dominated country music industry, the 32-year-old Allen joins fellow country music phenom Kane Brown at the top of the charts. The Georgia-born Brown, who is biracial, notably snagged three American Music Awards this year, just prior to his 25th birthday, including Favorite Country Male Artist, Album, and Song. Brown is enjoying runaway success, as reported by OkayPlayer:
Brown’s sophomore album, Experiment debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, making it the third country release to earn the spot in 2018. It’s also the first country sophomore album to reach no. 1 on the 200 chart since 2014. It’s also earned the most first-day streams for a country album in the U.S. ever on Apple Music. The 25-year-old singer-songwriter’s 2016 self-titled debut album peaked at no. 5 on the chart.
Despite the genre’s roots in the American blues tradition (as well as folk), successes of this stature have been few and far between for black musicians who favor country music. Prior to Allen’s and Brown’s hits, Darius Rucker, former lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish, was the only black country artist to hit No. 1 with his 2008 solo debut single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” according to Taste of Country.
For Rucker, his prior success in the music industry didn’t guarantee instant fame as a country solo act. He initially debuted at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs with “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” before climbing to the top slot. Rucker would ultimately become the first black artist to win the Country Music Association award for New Artist of the Year in 2009 (the award was introduced in 1981), and only the second to win a CMA after Charley Pride, who won Entertainer of the Year in 1971 and Best Male Vocalist in 1971 and 1972.
As for breakout star Brown, he’s been candid about some of the obstacles he’s faced as a black artist in country, noting in his lyrics that “there’s a lot of racism out there,” and singing about “getting looked down on just because of your skin” at this year’s CMA Music Festival, according to the Tennessean. In a now-deleted tweet, he also called out some of his colleagues, writing, “some people in Nashville who have pub[lishing] deals won’t write with me because I’m black.”
But as we know, there’s strength in numbers, and with Allen’s new success, there’s yet another strong black presence being represented in country music. Fans who don’t mind a little color in their country can catch both when they team up for Brown’s upcoming Live Forever tour, which launches in January with Allen as an opening act.
Allen seems to be taking his unprecedented success in stride, stating in his press release: “Did I think it would happen eventually? Absolutely! Just not this soon. I’m humbled and grateful— it’s such an honor to get my first No. 1 and to know that my song is connecting with people and resonating in a way that hopefully makes us all better people in the end, because that’s really what ‘Best Shot’ is all about.”
Maiysha Kai, The Root