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MY BLACK COUNTRY by Alice Randall Kirkus Star


A Journey Through Country Music's Black Past, Present, and Future

by Alice Randall

Pub Date: April 9th, 2024
ISBN: 9781668018408
Publisher: Black Privilege Publishing/Atria

A Nashville-based songwriter and music publisher recounts an unlikely success story while celebrating the contributions of Black Americans to country music.

The winding stream that rolls below Clinch Mountain, where country music was supposedly born, surely lapped at the feet of one Eslie Riddle, a Black guitarist who likely taught Mother Maybelle Carter the “foundation of the Carter Family sound.” Everyone’s heard of Mother; no one’s heard of Riddle. It’s an erasure that troubles Randall, who argues with impeccable scholarship born of reading, close listening, and lived experience that country music is Black music, albeit with the “trace of Black folk whitewashed out of the rural South, the rural West, out of rural America on country radio and records.” Yet it’s there, and it won’t be silenced or denied. Randall is a firsthand witness to the struggle, the first Black woman to write a No. 1 country song, and she portrays forgotten and half-remembered greats such as Lil Hardin, Linda Martell, O.C. Smith, and Ray Charles (who may have made his bones as an R&B singer but also released a keystone album called Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music). Randall listens to country music with open, welcoming ears. In her canon, the Supremes fit into the Black country tradition, as do the Allman Brothers and John Prine. Steve Earle is a brother-in-arms; so is Quincy Jones, about whom the author delivers an entertaining tale of home invasion that fortunately turned out well. (“Quincy,” she writes, “is a whole lot more Black Country and Black Country–adjacent than most folks realize.”) Occasionally tart but more often both forgiving and patiently instructive, Randall tallies the debt that all country music owes to so many Black artists over the centuries.

Essential for country fans—a delightful, inspirational story of persistence, resistance, and sheer love of music.