Country star Luke Combs said “there is no excuse” for his past use of Confederate flag imagery in photos and a 2015 music video.
“As I’ve grown in my time as an artist, and as the world has changed drastically in the last five to seven years, I am now aware how painful that image can be,” Combs said. “I would never want to be associated with something that brings so much hurt to someone else.”
The comments came Wednesday during a conversation on “accountability and the future of country music” with Maren Morris and moderator Ann Powers for the annual Country Radio Seminar.
In 2015 – two years before the release of his debut album – Combs was seen performing in front of numerous Confederate flags in the music video for Ryan Upchurch’s “Can I Get a Outlaw.” His acoustic guitar at the time also included a sticker with the flag’s image. Photos of Combs with that guitar have circulated on social media in recent months.
Plans for the conversation took shape this month after country star Morgan Wallen was filmed using a racial slur. The incident prompted an industry-wide response (including the removal of Wallen’s music from hundreds of radio stations) and renewed conversations on matters of race and inclusion in Nashville.
After the video of Wallen was released on Feb. 2, Morris was one of the first (and ultimately few) mainstream country stars to directly condemn his actions. She also dedicated her 2020 CMA Award for Female Vocalist of Year to numerous Black women in country music.
As Morris discussed during the conversation, she has also been called out for past behavior. She recalled a tweet by writer Andrea Williams that pointed out a lack of Black musicians on her most recent album, which proudly wore an R&B influence. Morris was initially defensive before deciding “that’s a really good question.”
“I have got to correct that and acknowledge that,” she said. “Yeah, absolutely, cultural appropriation, culture ‘vulturing’ is a real thing. I love country music so much. I have my version of it, of what I make. And I think that going forward, I just want to pay respect to the people that actually built it for me.”
Combs said it had been “difficult” to prepare for Wednesday’s conversation, and noted the perceived risk a country artist takes when speaking on social and political issues.
He said he was participating in the conversation to say, “‘I’m trying to learn. I’m trying to get better.’ I know that I’m a very highly visible member of the country music community right now. And I want to use that position for good, and to say that people can change and people do want to change, and I’m one of those people trying.”