Here’s an interesting story which I may have told you before on the radio. However, it’s worth repeating. Two years ago, in the light of the wider Black Lives Matter movement, the BBC in Scotland celebrated Black History Month. As we discussed how we could make sense of this on a country music programme we started to imagine how we could include African American artists in the running order of the show. Before we got very far we realised we could very easily play two hours of music playing these artists alone.
The result was a joyous episode celebrating artists we’d played before as well as discovering new acts whose records became regular spins over the next two years. We realised, as many people now know, that there was a very healthy roster of African American artists in the country/Americana community. In the year preceding all this, 2019, there had also been some serious shifting of the plates within country music. Lil Nas’s Old Town Road had caused a furore by being a country record from a black artist which country radio and Billboard had managed to sideline. You can read about that particular controversy here. The upshot of all of that however was that country music, celebrated by African Americans was here to stay.
In the UK we’d just exported one of our finest Americana artists to Nashville in the shape of Yola. Her debut album, ‘Walk Through Fire’ had brought together some great Nashville writers under the stewardship of Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach who cowrote, produced and released (on his Easy Eye label) her debut album. It was and continues to be a rich brew of country blues and soul.
In the following year we’d already had a ground breaking album from Allison Russell which had changed the way people understood Americana by refocussing the listener on to queer, race and women’s issues. To say Outside Child changed the Americana genre is a huge understatement. Despite Allison having had a significant career as a member of Birds of Chicago, telling her own story in her own voice seemed to change everything. Americana, often, seemingly celebrated only by beardy old blokes, now had a wider focus. Songs about abuse, racism and sexual identity had become part of the new repertoire. It was the change the music needed.
Mickey Guyton, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, Brittney Spencer & Willie Jones
What did all of this mean for the listener? For the AC we made sure we never again played a show without including African American artists. This allowed us to showcase some of the most exciting new names over the last couple of years. We’ve discovered Joy Oladokun, Amythyst Kiah, Tre´ Burt and Mickey Guyton. Since that time all of these artists and more have become core acts and we have all delighted in the music they are making.
This coming Tuesday we’ll celebrate Black History Month again knowing that it is a continuation of artists we already love with some new names we hope to hear more from over the next year or so. Do join me on this week’s Another Country on BBC Scotland FM this Tuesday evening at five past eight or on BBC Sounds at a time or place of your own choosing.