Here’s a confession. I had a Damascus Road experience in the second half of this year, and I’m grateful for the experience. If you remember the original story of St Paul’s Syrian epiphany he loses his sight after his sudden conversion from persecuting Christians to joining them. As ever with the Bible, it’s a great story even if you’re not a believer yourself. Such is the force of the encounter that Saul became Paul and he completed the most influential 180º turn in modern history.
Mine was less dramatic but, for me, an important change. Until we were asked to curate a special Another Country for Black History Month I’d (wrongly) assumed the music made by African American musicians was largely outsider the genres of Country and Americana. It was only after going through many of the records we loved and associated artists that I realised this was one more way to exclude black people from the their natural audience.
Many years ago when I first started hosting shows on the radio I often suggested to the producers I was working with that they seemed to ignore many African American artists. Oh, they would explain, this show is about singer songwriters and various other half assed apologies. And Marvin Gaye, I would ask, is he not just that? Surely there is no greater singer songwriter than Smokey Robinson and the list goes on …step forward Roberta Flack, Anita Baker and Minnie Riperton.
And? Well, and here you can see where we learned something. In July when we played you The Best of 2020 So Far there was no music from any African American artists on the list. As I explained in this blog Americana means nothing if it doesn’t include the roots of the music, and the roots are planted in the black experience. You’ll find our real best of 2020 includes a good few African Americans who have made a substantial contribution to the Americana year. In one case, Tré Burt’s Under The Devil’s Knee I’m pretty well convinced he’s written and recorded the song of the year.
Oh I’m screaming I cannot breathe, my Lord
From under the devil’s knee.’
In this week’s Another Country we’ll play you many of the highlights of this year. It’s safe to say that although it has been the worst year in all of our living memories, music has been our solace, our comfort and the place where the year’s best stories have been told. For me, as ever, it has been music that got me through.
I’d planned to write all of this before the sad passing of Charley Pride, but it’s aeven more apposite this week to double down on our assertion that Black Lives Matter and Black music should never be excluded. You can hear Tré Burt, The Staple Singers and Charley Pride as well as great things from Chris Stapleton, Ashley McBryde and Loretta Lynn on this week’s AC.
Join us this Tuesday for the best of 2020 and a sprinkling of great Christmas Country. It’s a two hour treat which starts at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland and on BBC Sounds whenever you like.