The Yeehaw Agenda Has Always Been Black

Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that Beyoncé shocked the world on Super Bowl Sunday when she announced her next album would be a country one—and if you’re like me, you’ve been waiting for this moment since the 2016 CMA’s. But no sooner had I added “Texas Hold ‘Em” to all of my favorite playlists did I see the worst of takes going around the internet. “Country music?? She lost me.” “I just can’t *picture* Beyoncé singing country.” “I hate country music, I don’t know about this album.” So, as a lifelong Beyoncé fan and a selective country music fan (read: women in country music fan), I’m here to take y’all to history class about how the yeehaw agenda has actually always been Black. 

The History

If you’re a country music fan you probably are familiar with some of the great Black men of the genre: Darius Rucker, Charley Pride, Kane Brown, just to name a few. But I bet you haven’t heard of the great Black women, who history always leaves out. Linda Martell was the first Black woman to play at the Grand Ole Opry, an iconic country music venue. She broke so many barriers, but was dropped from her label and faced so many racist attacks that she ultimately ended up leaving the genre altogether. But Linda’s legacy lives on, inspiring artists like Dona Mason—who was the last Black woman to appear on the Billboard Country chart for 20 years until Rissi Palmer came on the scene. 

The Facts

Not only have Black women been the core of country and folk music, but the genre itself was pioneered by Black culture. Over a century ago, what we would consider country music today was all the rage with Black artists using banjos to anchor their mostly sad songs. Record labels saw this happening and used racism to split artists into two genres: country western if you were white and blues if you were Black. Plenty of famous white country and folk artists, like Johnny Cash, have given their flowers to the Black artists that inspire them but the racial divide is still very real today. Black country music artists still only hold a tiny percentage of country radio airplay, with even fewer Black women making the cut. It took Luke Combs covering “Fast Car” for Tracy Chapman to get the title of first #1 country single written by a Black woman.

The Women

Beyoncé is shining a much needed light on the Black influence of country music and of course, is already breaking records as the first Black woman to top the Billboard Country Music chart. Now that we can claim Beyoncé as one of our new favorite country music artists, here are a few other Black women in the genre I think you should know:

  • Rhiannon Giddens for when you’re in your country twang era—her banjo playing was even featured on Beyoncé’s latest hit.
  • Allison Russell for when you want to be in your feels on a rainy day. 
  • Yola (who I’ve seen live three times!) for belting out on long drives on that first, warm day of spring. 
  • Mickey Guyton for when you’re feeling a church choir moment. 
  • Brittney Spencer for when you’re craving that “classic” country sound—her covers are some of my favorites. 
  • And then there’s Rissi Palmer who has a song for every moment and mood, whether it’s singing in your shower or with friends around a campfire. 

We’re not ending Black History Month with anti-Beyoncé foolishness and we’re certainly not bringing any of that energy into Women’s History Month. In conclusion, class, country music is and always has been Black.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out the Yee-Haw Agenda and Marissa Moss.