How black artists are breaking country music’s color barrier


When Nashville breakout Mickey Guyton gave a powerful performance of “Black Like Me” at the Grammys last month, it was a statement moment for her and all of the other African-American artists who are stomping across country music’s color lines.

No doubt — black artists such as Guyton, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen and Nashville veteran Darius Rucker are leading a diversity movement in the traditionally white country-music industry. Look no further than the genre’s two biggest awards shows: After Rucker became only the second black artist to ever co-host the CMAs in November, Guyton will be the first African-American woman to co-host the Academy of Country Music Awards — with Keith Urban — on Sunday.

On top of that, the ACMs will feature a record five black acts performing. Guyton, Brown and Allen will all take the stage, as well as Americana duo the War and Treaty, while gospel star CeCe Winans will join Carrie Underwood for a special duet.

Jimmie Allen
Jimmie Allen
John Shearer

Not to mention, Allen has already been announced as the new male artist of the year  — a historic victory for the “Best Shot” singer as the first black recipient of an ACM new artist award.

“It’s about time,” Allen, 34, told The Post. “What I’m hoping it does is open some doors for more black artists to have success in country and more black artists to feel comfortable enough to do country if that’s what they want to do.”

After Allen made his ACMs history, Guyton will make hers on Sunday. “We’re incredibly proud to have her as the co-host,” said Damon Whiteside, CEO of the Academy of Country Music. “She’s got the wonderful personality and is so talented. And she’s a member of our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, so we work a lot with her.”

Despite her recent buzz, Guyton, at 37, is no newcomer to the game. But she’s faced her share of obstacles as a black artist in country music — which perhaps helps explain why she has yet to release a proper debut album despite dropping four EPs since 2014. (Her first full-length is finally coming later this year.)

Mickey Guyton
Mickey Guyton
CBS via Getty Images

“To be honest, I think that we probably … underestimated a lot of [Guyton’s challenges],” said Cindy Mabe, president of her label, Universal Music Group Nashville, “You go out and see it in the marketplace. She’s out on festival dates, and there’s confederate flags flying around.”

But embracing her African-American experience with “Black Like Me” has helped Guyton find her lane, said Mabe: “She took on a whole completely different life of, ‘All right, this is what my mission is: My mission is to open the door wider for other people. I’m gonna say the things that are true to who I am.’ “

Holly Gleason, Nashville Editor of Hits magazine, credits Rucker for jump-starting the current wave of black artists in country music when he made the move from Hootie & the Blowfish to Nashville in 2008.

“I think that Darius Rucker showing up, having No. 1’s … broke the door down,” she said. “And I think that Kane Brown having such massive social-media impact with young people reinforced the message [from Rucker’s success] that younger country-music fans were more interested in the sound of the voice than the color of the skin.”

Darius Rucker
Darius Rucker
Getty Images

Still, country music isn’t exactly woke yet. When young Nashville star Morgan Wallen was caught on video using the N-word earlier this year, it reinforced some racist “good ol’ boy” stereotypes about the genre. But JR Schumann — senior director of music programming (country) on SiriusXM’s “The Highway” channel — says that old stigma is about as played-out as a tattered guitar strap.

Kane Brown
Kane Brown
Getty Images

“A lot of the people that perpetuate the stereotypes of country music aren’t actually familiar with the diversity that exists in country music today,” he said. “Nashville has been a really progressive town a lot longer than it might get credit for.”

Indeed, an artist such as Allen no longer has to worry about being “the only one.” While he’s gotten counsel and commiseration from both Rucker and Brown, he told The Post he “spent the most time talking to Charley Pride about it when he was alive. Me and Charley would talk on the phone every other week about what he went through.”

Charley Pride
Charley Pride
Getty Images for CMA

And when Pride — who was the only other black artist to co-host the ACMs before Guyton, in 1980 and 1984 — received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the CMAs in November, just a few weeks before he passed, Allen was right there on stage to play tribute to him.

“Every black artist in country now,” he said, “we are all the legacy of Charley Pride.”



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