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Stateside Podcast: The Black roots of American country music

A black and white photo show a Black singer in a skirt wearing cowboy boots. The picture is from the knees down.
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Country music is often associated with white, working-class Americans. But the genre owes just as much to the many Black musicians who helped shape the music of the South.

The 1920s were a time of massive social changes: from women gaining the right to vote to a significant rise in mass entertainment. The 1920s also saw the birth of country music as a commercial genre. While much of mainstream country music is overwhelmingly white, it was the music of both the Black and white working-class musicians in Appalachia that helped to create the genre.

“And in fact, in the South, where the talent scouts went looking for musicians, Black and white musicians were both playing music that became country," explained Nadine Hubbs, professor of women’s and gender studies and music at the University of Michigan.

Hubbs talked to Stateside about the long and lasting influence of Black musicians in the history of country music. And, she explained how artists like Beyoncé are teaching audiences about this overlooked influence in American musical history.

“She’s bringing other Black artists and non-Black artists onto the album, and has been talking about it in a way that spreads around the knowledge that other folks have been also trying to convey, but with less of a platform than Beyoncé has.”

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  • Nadine Hubbs, professor of women’s and gender studies and music at the University of Michigan and author of "Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music"

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Music in this episode byBlue Dot Sessions.

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Yesenia Zamora-Cardoso is a production assistant for Stateside.
April Van Buren is a producer for Stateside. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.