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The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

Student news without fear or favor

Black artists in country music: Beyoncé and beyond

Highlighting the contributions of Black artists in a predominately white genre
Mia Huss
An image of Beyoncé in a rhinestone outfit channeling her inner diva that reflects the genre of her new country music singles. Her new songs are an example of many Black contributions to the country music genre. (Photo courtesy of Beyoncé via Instagram, graphic created in Canva by Mia Huss and Karina Torres)

Hidden in archives of the country music genre are some of the most musically talented Black artists who have significantly impacted the genre since its inception.

Artists like Ray Charles, Lesley Riddle, Jessie Mae Hemphill and Charley Pride among others have paved the way for modern Black country musicians like Darius Rucker, The War and Treaty and Beyoncé to take charge and diversify a white musician dominated genre.

To learn more about the Black roots in country music, tune into these artists’ historical contributions.

Lesley Riddle

Lesley Riddle’s historical contributions to the country music genre were never formally recognized until the 1960s when he released an album of his best work. He worked closely with The Carter Family. (Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina, graphic created in Canva by Karina Torres)

In the 1920s and 30s, Lesley Riddle contributed to the country genre by influencing and helping The Carter Family rise to fame.

A.P. Carter was the founding member of The Carter Family and quickly became close friends with Riddle after they met in Tennessee. Riddle taught members of the group how to play guitar and the Carter-style picking that Maybelle Carter used in the band is directly influenced by Riddle’s guitar style.

One of the most notable songs by The Carter Family was the live performance of Riddle’s song “John Henry” by Maybelle Carter in 1963.

Riddle didn’t release music until the 1960s, with his album “Step By Step – Lesley Riddle Meets the Carter Family” which highlights blues, folk and country songs that Riddle sang and composed with The Carter Family.

He performed at the Smithsonian Folk Festival and the Mariposa Folk Festival, but most of his fame comes from the songs and compositions The Carter Family used and became famous for.

Jessie Mae Hemphill

Mississippi queen Jessie Mae Hemphill has left a legacy in the south. From her crooning vocals, folk lyricism and electrifying guitar skills, Hemphill’s music leaves a mark on the country music industry. (Photo courtesy of High Water Records, graphic created in Canva by Karina Torres )

Jessie Mae Hemphill has left a country blues footprint on her home state of Mississippi, because of her unique vocal style and multi-instrumental talent.

Hemphill tried to connect with her roots by adding her own personal touch to traditional African American folk music. After suffering from a stroke in 1993, Hemphill was no longer able to play guitar, yet her influence as a country and blues icon remains.

Some of her most popular songs that display her diverse musical talent and lyricism are “She-Wolf,” “Tell Me You Love Me” and “Jessie’s Boogie,” which display her signature guitar style.

Her contribution to the genre allowed blues, folk and country music to thrive in the south where she grew up and lived most of her life. She truly left her stamp on the genre and made Mississippi proud.

Ray Charles

Ray Charles left an impact on the country music industry by releasing an album when he was told not to because of his race. However, his album was widely accepted and shows his talent as a musician by dipping into a different genre. (Photo courtesy of ABC Records/Tangerine Records, graphic created in Canva by Karina Torres )

Ray Charles is a music industry name that cannot be forgotten. While his specialty is soul music, he also had a major influence on the country music genre.

Charles wanted to release a country music album, and while his label cautioned against it, he did anyway. In 1962, Charles released his album “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music”, which blended his bold musical style with the country genre.

By blending his signature R&B and soul style with a country genre, Charles’ vision for the album led to his success in the genre. The Grand Ole Opry recognized him in 2019, for his contributions to the music industry as a whole, but specifically the impact he had on country music.

Charley Pride

Often called “Country music’s first Black superstar” Charley Pride is one of the most famous Black country musicians. Pride’s legacy lives on and has inspired modern day Black country artists. (Photo courtesy of Greg Mathison/U.S. Department of Defense National Archive, graphic created in Canva by Karina Torres )

Charley Pride’s country music career broke barriers and earned him the name “country music’s first Black superstar” when he rose to fame with his single “Just Between You and Me.”

Pride was born and raised in the segregated south, but this never stopped him from pursuing country music. Pride’s race was kept a secret for a while, and the first time people saw his face was on the album cover for his single “Just Between You and Me,” that topped the charts.

Pride was immediately nominated for a Grammy because of his song “Just Between You and Me” and booked a large show in Olympia Stadium in Detroit for 10,000 soon after.

Before rising to fame as a vocalist, Pride played baseball in the Negro American League in 1950. Pride was recruited to come to Nashville after country stars Red Sovine and Red Foley heard Pride singing in Montana. His talents have left an imprint on the country music genre forever.

Darius Rucker

Darius Rucker is a country music icon and was inspired by Charley Pride. He is widely known for his song “Wagon Wheel” and being the frontman for the band Hootie and The Blowfish. (Photo Courtesy of Zach Catanzareti via Flickr, graphic created in Canva by Karina Torres )

Darius Rucker’s love for country music was inspired by the Black artists before him. Now he’s one of the most notable Black country artists, most well-known for his rendition of “Wagon Wheel.”

Rucker’s love for country music started when he listened to his mother’s records of Pride growing up in South Carolina.

Rucker said the music industry in Nashville was uncertain about him when he arrived because of his race, yet he’s one of the most notable modern day Black country artists.

Known for his hit songs “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” and “Alright,” Rucker’s music has topped country charts and brought fans to the genre.

Before delving into country music,he started off as the frontman for the rock band Hootie & the Blowfish. Rucker’s music legacy continues with his latest album “Carolyn’s Boy” which was released in October 2023.

The War and Treaty

The War and Treaty is a dynamic husband and wife duo making waves in country music by blending their soul and folk roots with the country genre. These rising stars have four albums out and collaborate with other up and coming musicians. (Photo Courtesy of Austin Hargrave/Mercury Nashville Records, graphic created in Canva by Karina Torres )

Husband and wife duo Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter formed The War and Treaty in 2014, the duo has four albums out and have made waves in the genre by mixing genres.

The War and Treaty blend their country roots with soul, blues and gospel elements that truly display the deep Black roots of the music industry and how genres intertwine.

The War and Treaty are the first Black musicians to be nominated for duo of the year at the Country Music Association Awards.

One of the duo’s most popular songs that display their dynamic lyricism and soulful vocals is “Set my Soul on Fire,” a powerful country song about passion and fear.

The duo is featured on “Hey Driver” a song from rising country star Zach Bryan’s self titled album and indie artist Wilder Woods’, “Be Yourself”.

Before rising to fame, Tanya Trotter starred in “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit” and sang with Lauryn Hill, but she never rose to fame until 1996. Michael Trotter met her at an art festival and they bonded over their love of music to create The War and Treaty.


Beyoncé’s new country album “Cowboy Carter” is set to release March 29. While country is not her usual genre, fans are excited for her take on the country music genre. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, graphic created in Canva by Karina Torres)

Beyoncé is making waves with her new music and upcoming country album, fans are counting the days until they see the country version of Beyoncé.

Beyoncé’s new singles “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” and “16 CARRIAGES” are country songs with elements of pop, soul and R&B that allude to her upbringing in Houston, Texas and experience as a Black woman in America.

Beyoncé choosing to release country music is much different than her typical R&B, pop and house music, but this bold career decision has brought recognition to country music’s Black roots.

In an Instagram post, Beyoncé shared her appreciation for the genre and the excitement she has for releasing country music.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Beyoncé (@beyonce)

Fans are anticipating her new country album “Cowboy Carter” which will release March 29.

From historical Black country musicians like Lesley Riddle to modern day artists like Beyoncé and The War and Treaty, Black roots have always been a part of country music.

Listen to the playlist below to hear the voices of these country musicians, both old and new, that you won’t want to miss.

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About the Contributors
Karina Torres
Karina Torres, A&E Staffer
(she/her) Karina Torres is a transfer student from Sierra College and will be graduating in the fall of 2024. Her major is journalism and this is her first semester at The State Hornet. She loves beauty and fashion and would love to pursue a career in that field.
Mia Huss
Mia Huss, A&E Staffer
(she/her) Mia is a graduating senior majoring in political science and journalism. She has worked as a freelance journalist covering local government in her hometown. This is her first semester with The State Hornet.
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