More on music … Beyonce breaks into country and western

Beyoncé isn’t coal black but in the way of many Americans she isn’t white either.

It is election year over there and as far back as Richard Nixon country music has been used to woo white voters.

Still, Beyoncé’s just-released country album ‘Cowboy Carter’ has risen like a titan and held itself steady at the top of the Billboard charts in America. It already has colossal record-breaking global streaming listenership. In eyebrow-raising promo videos, Beyoncé  shows bare skin, to the chagrin of country purists, and wears a cowboy hat and Wild West regalia.

Trump’s right wingers are outraged.  How dare she! Country is a “white thing.”

Beyonce is of mixed race or ‘coloured,’ as we would say here in southern Africa. In the polarised US where everything is either black or white she correctly could be called creole;  mixed blood from her mother’s French ancestry in the deep south of Louisiana.  It wasn’t uncommon for slave girls to be bedded and impregnated  by their owners. (Thomas Jefferson,  the third US president and a co-author of the Declaration of Independence, famously did it.)

The blockbusting success so far of ‘Cowboy Carter’ has rattled the entrenched country music establishment but, reassures one white music critic, it is more about Beyonce’s own stardom and talent than the true blackening of country music.

The original country, played with a bit of spliff thrown in by freed blacks and errant cowboys in the hillbilly Appalachian mountains in the 1920s, was discouraged by whites  who then promoted it as a money maker among themselves during the height of racial segregation.

Nevertheless musicologists say historically the beats and rhythms brought by African slaves had a massive influence on the blues, jazz and in the birth of country. After drums were prohibited on the plantations in case they rallied slaves against landowners an African dance beat called “pattin’ juba” couldn’t be stopped. It is the patting, slapping, clapping and drumming of the hands mainly on the thighs.

Pattin’ juba and spiritual vocals later known as the ‘field holler’  on the southern cotton estates came across the ocean on the slave ships where they had brought some solace in all the misery.

Beyonce Knowles-Carter, 44, sang country when she was 18 but America at large took no notice of her until she found fame in pop. Dolly Parton, John Denver, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire, Johnny Cash and Kenny Rogers led the country genre, followed by the “greats of colour” Charley Pride, DeFord Bailey and Ray Charles.

Beyonce has astonished the hierarchy of Nashville and the big closed-door record labels there. And the controversy is raging now right across middle America.

Not even music is spared discord in this day and age of precious little harmony anywhere in the world.

1 Response

  1. allen pizzey says:

    When it comes to a certain level of whites in the U.S., insecurity rules.

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