The country music industry is ripe for change when it comes to diversity and inclusion – and it’s been a long time coming.
Rissi Palmer hosted a special virtual roundtable episode of her radio show “Color Me Country” on Sunday with country singers Maren Morris and Cam as well as author Andrea Williams. The episode touched on country music’s issues with race and gender, as well as how to diversify the industry moving forward.
Morris reflected during the roundtable on her tribute to Black women in country music at the CMA Awards last November. “I certainly was not trying to be performative at all,” she said. “I genuinely was thinking about the people that kind of kicked the door in for me and gave my name a platform like that, some recognition … Several people did that early on in my career, and that’s kind of where my heart was at.”
Morris honored Black women in country music at the 2020 CMA Awards, dedicating her Female Artist of the Year win to Rhiannon Giddens, Yola, Linda Martell, Palmer, Mickey Guyton and Brittney Spencer — Black women ranging in influence from the 1970s to lauded modern songwriters and Nashville up-and-comers.
“There are so many amazing Black women that pioneer and continue to pioneer this genre,” Morris said at the awards show. “I know they’re gonna come after me. They’ve come before me. You’ve made this genre so, so beautiful. I hope you know that we see you.”
The group talked during the radio show about the roadblocks still in the way for progress – Palmer said the industry curbs the voices of artists whenever they want.
“I think that in this business we’re a dime a dozen,” Palmer said. “And if you’re too much trouble, or if you cost too much, or if you’re not making them enough money, it all has to do with the bottom line and if you’re not meeting that, I think that you’re disposable.”
Williams, for her part, pointed out Nashville’s liberal white hypocrisy. “Since what happened at the Capitol, (there are) so many people in this Nashville space that are doing all of this stuff, that are calling out the Confederate flags that were traipsed through the Capitol building, that have been to billions of shows with Confederate flags, that don’t care that Black people can’t work in this town,” she said.
CMA Awards 2020:Maren Morris dedicates win to ‘amazing Black women’ who pioneered country music
The special comes on the heels of the Morgan Wallen racism scandal, which shook the country music world – and the country. A recent video surfaced of the singer using a racist slur. In the video, he told a friend, “take care of this (expletive) N-word,” referring to another person he was with.
“I used an unacceptable and inappropriate racial slur that I wish I could take back,” Wallen said in a statement after the video was posted by TMZ. “There are no excuses to use this type of language, ever. I want to sincerely apologize for using the word. I promise to do better.” He has since released a more detailed apology, met with Black organizations and asked followers to stop defending him.
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Cam discussed how to tackle diversity in the industry. “We can’t play this game anymore of pretending everything’s fine,” she said. “Even if you’re trying, you have to be okay being uncomfortable.”
Morris added: “I feel like we all should be uncomfortable. The nature of it is change, is being uncomfortable. It’s breaking out of something that has worked for very few for far too long, and for the many stopped so short.”
She said “the best way to validate someone is to pay them.”
“Everything going from writing songs in the room with someone, production, instrumentation, your crew people that you bring out on the road, I feel like there are so many,” Morris said. “So it’s just such an insular bubble that we have to burst, and I am absolutely aware of it. Like I said, embarrassingly late, but I’m just trying to do the right thing.”
Contributing: Matthew Leimkuehler, Nashville Tennessean