Charlie Pride did it in 1971. Darius Rucker did it in 2009. That’s it. Two black men, spanning thirty-eight years, are the only black artists to win a Country Music Association Award. With country music rooted in bluegrass and rhythm and blues, why aren’t there more black country music stars? When considering the roots of country music, and how closely related country is to blues, bluegrass and honky tonk music, an examination of what happened to all the black musicians seems warranted, no? This paper examines the dearth of black artists in country music and the careers of one of the few black artists who has had commercial success in this genre of music.
As long as we’re examining race, how is the success of a white rapper such as Eminem different? Plus, Eminem didn’t have a successful career in rock, for example as Darius Rucker did. Yet, Eminem’s career has been enormously successful, and there was little discussion of how odd it was that a white man would choose to perform in this genre. Is country music a genre that has been appropriated so much by white artists that black artists abandoned the genre altogether?
Darius Rucker, the former lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish has made the transition from platinum selling pop rock artist to country singer in the past few years. On a recent episode of Oprah, Darius sat on Oprah’s couch as she declared to her audience, “Country music is the real soul music!” Rucker’s solo debut release, Learn to Live reached No. 1 and has remained on the Billboard charts for 30 weeks. The CD’s first two singles, “Don't Think I Don't Think About It" and "It Won't Be Like This For Long,” each hit No. 1, making Rucker the first male artist to get two debut singles atop the Hot Country Songs chart in the past 18 years (The Root). And in November of 2009, Rucker won the Country Music Association New Artist of the Year award, making him the first black artist to win the award since its introduction in 1981. Darius Rucker, a Charleston, S.C., native, describes his musical influences growing up in the south, “You could hear R&B, rock ’n’ roll and country on the same station, that was where it all started for me, being able to flip through the channels and never really hearing about what label something was” (Reverb).
Charlie Pride jokingly referred to this as the “pigmentation situation” (The Root). Musicologists such as Richard Peterson and Paul Di Maggio have theorized that country music is the embodiment of southern white pride. They have added post war northern migration enabled regional country music to be exported to other areas of the United States, especially centers of industrial production: “The argument is that white southerners streamed to northern and West Coast war-plants, while those in the armed forces carried the music around the world, and nonsoutherners stationed in the South were exposed to commercial country music for the first time. Furthermore, the warborn affluence made it economically...