Reflection of a New Country Music World

By Hall, Kristin M. | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), March 10, 2019 | Go to article overview

Reflection of a New Country Music World


Hall, Kristin M., Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


BY KRISTIN M. HALL

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Country singer Jimmie Allen likes to tell a story about the first time he met songwriter J.P. Williams, who is blind, before they came up with Allen's No. 1 hit single "Best Shot."

"I said, 'I don't know if anyone told you, but I'm black,'" Allen said. "'So keep the black jokes to a minimum.'"

Allen, who made history last year for being the first black artist to launch his career with a No. 1 single on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, isn't afraid of joking about the elephant in the room: He's usually the only black man in the country song writers' room.

He and artists like Kane Brown, 25, who is biracial, are appealing to millennial and Gen Z listeners who aren't traditional country fans but are discovering country music in different platforms, such as streaming, YouTube and social media. That has allowed these black artists to succeed in a predominantly white musical landscape.

"The folks that listen to Kane Brown and the folks that have started to listen to Jimmie Allen, many of them would not call themselves country fans," said Nadine Hubbs, professor of women's studies and music at the University of Michigan and the author of "Rednecks, Queers and Country Music."

Certainly, there's not a sea change. It's been incremental even as the genre is shrinking its gender diversity. Last year, three artists who are minorities, Allen, Brown and Darius Rucker, scored No. 1 country airplay hits, which is only slightly less than the four female artists who reached the top spot with their songs or as a duet partner.

Both Brown and Allen are skilled at reaching new audiences through social media, with Brown even scoring a record deal because of his country covers on Facebook. Allen, who has the charisma of a seasoned TV pro, posts a lot of pictures on Instagram of his 4-year-old son or his trips to Disney World.

Brown has had a lot of crossover opportunities, singing with artists like Camila Cabello and Khalid, while Allen, who is newer to the genre and has had less collaborations, has pop and rock influences in his music.

But both hold tightly to their country roots and their country vocals, and they are well-versed in country music history, Hubbs said. Like Charley Pride and Rucker, Allen sings about traditional country music themes of small towns, rural life, love and romance and the simple pleasures of life.

At the same time, both Allen and Brown aren't afraid to address race in their songs, which previously generations of black country artists weren't always able to do. …

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