In the early years of country music, you will rarely see Black country singers. It was a genre often viewed as white music. But things have changed since the late 1960s when African-American singer Charley Pride hit the scene. He paved the way for the many Black country artists today.
Let’s get to know some of the most talented country music artists from the Black community.
Charley Pride is one of the most popular country singers of all time and was considered as country music’s first African American superstar. At the peak of his career in the early to mid-1970s, Pride even became the best-selling performer for RCA Records since Elvis Presley. Now, that’s quite the feat.
He’s also won several awards throughout his career. He has 13 awards under his belt, and this includes four Grammy awards, one of which was a lifetime achievement award. Charley Pride was also the first African-American singer to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. And in 2000, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. And though he is now in his 80s, Charley Pride continues to release music.
Darius Rucker has made quite an impact in the world of country music ever since he released his first album, “Learn To Live” in 2008. The South Carolina native first gained fame as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the rock band Hootie & the Blowfish before he embarked on his own.
Today, Darius Rucker one of the best-known country artists of all time. He did not only became the first Black country singer to reach No. 1 on the country charts since the ’80s, but he was also the first Black artist to win the Country Music Association for Best New Artist award.
Darius Rucker has been releasing Grammy-winning hits for years now and won’t be stopping anytime soon.
Kane Brown is one of the most incredible young country artists in the genre. The 26-year-old country singer was born to a white mother and an African-American father. He was raised in Georgia before settling in Tennessee.
Kane Brown grew up listening to the country genre. When he was in 11th grade, he won a talent show by singing Chris Young’s ‘”Gettin’ You Home.” This inspired him to pursue a career in music. He successfully auditioned for ‘X Factor,’ but left the show when the producers tried to put him in a boy band. Instead, Kane Brown opted to post covers of country songs online.
His cover of George Strait’s “Check Yes or No” went viral. It garnered 7 million views via Facebook, and Brown quickly grew a huge social media presence that he parlayed into the release of his first single, “Used to Love You Sober,” in 2015 and released his first full-length album in 2016.
Ever since then, Kane Brown became unstoppable. He was the first artist to have simultaneous number ones on all five main Billboard country charts. In 2018, he won three American Music Awards for Favorite Country Male Artist, Favorite Country Album and Favorite Country Song.
Lil Nas X
Montero Lamar, known as Lil Nas X, made his breakthrough by merging the pastoral tones of country music with hip-hop. He put his spin on a subgenre dubbed country-trap, which was an unexpected success for the rapper.
Lil Nas X debut single, “Old Town Road,” went viral on social media and streaming. This sent him toward the upper reaches of the Hot 100. And in the summer of 2019, the song was already a certified multi-platinum and No. 1 across the globe.
“He’s been able to break down cultural barriers as well as pre-existing notions of musical genres,” Ron Perry, the chairman & CEO of Columbia Records, Lil Nas’ label, told TIME. “He has remained authentic and true to his art, and this is just the beginning.”
Aaron Neville is an African-American, Caucasian, and Native American, making his music a byproduct of a colorful background. Neville started performing with his siblings in the mid-’50s. However, legal problems sidelined Neville for much of the rest of the decade. But in 1966, his single, “Tell It Like It Is,” became a smash that spread his name outside Louisiana. To date, the talented singer boasts four platinum albums as well as four Top 10 hits in the U.S.
“I was into him [Nat King Cole] and Charles Brown and Ray Charles and all the doo-wops,” Neville wrote on his official website. “And I was also a big fan of Hank Williams, and the cowboys—Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers.”
Cowboy Troy is another amazing Black country singer. He is known for his unique blend of country and hip-hop. Record executives were shocked when Troy’s genre-melding broke through with country music audiences.
His career took off in 1993 after joining Rich and Big Kenny, of the band Big & Rich, as they performed opening acts for Tim McGraw. Later on, concert venues started to book Coleman for his own solo performances.
Finally, in 2005, Troy released his first major-label solo album, Loco Motive. The album debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, and he managed to keep his career rolling. Troy also landed a gig as co-host of Nashville Star, CMT’s singing competition. The show put him next to Wynonna Judd on one season, Jewel, on the next.
Jimmie Allen had a rough start in country music. In his few years in few years in Nashville, he experienced poverty and was often living out of his car. He auditioned for America’s Got Talent but did not make it past the preliminary auditions. Allen also auditioned for the tenth season of American Idol but was cut before the live voting rounds.
But this did not stop him. In 2018, Jimmie Allen’s debut single “Best Shot” debuted at No. 1. This made him making him the first Black artist to score a career No.1 with a debut single at country radio. He joined Darius Rucker as the only Black country artist to hit No. 1 with their debut singles.
Though Tina Turner is commonly associated with the soul and R&B records she made, most country fans might not know that the talented artist actually released a country album, “Tina Turns the Country On,” in 1975. The album featured country music covered from the well-loved country artists like Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, and Hank Snow.
Turner took a creative risk, and it totally paid off.
Ray Charles is one of the most incredible Black country singers of all time that he was often referred to as “The Genius.” Though he was one of the singers most responsible for developing soul music, he contributed to the integration of country music during the 1960s.
His 1962 album, “Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music,” became his first album to top the Billboard 200. It also has a sequel Music, Vol. 2. The two albums helped to bring country music into the musical mainstream.
There’s another Black country singer on the rise. Mickey Guyton became a rising country star in 2015, thanks to a voice that walks the line between classic country and contemporary pop. Plus, her genuine talent for songwriting is incredible. Her debut single, “Better Than You Left Me,” began making its way up the radio airplay charts. What’s even more amazing was that she debuted the single at the Grand Ole Opry.
Recently, Guyton released another single, “What Are You Gonna Tell Her,” which is so exquisitely sung, moving, and totally brilliant. Her performance of the song during the Universal Music Group’s annual Country Radio Seminar early this year drew a standing ovation from a crowd of music industry insiders.
These Black country singers are definitely making history in the world of country music. They’re just amazing and oozing with pure talent.
Aaron Neville, Charley Pride, Cowboy Troy, darius rucker, Jimmie Allen, Kane Brown, Lil Nas X, Mickey Guyton, Ray Charles, Tina Turner