Yee Haw! The Rise of Black Country

Thanks to Darius Rucker, Rissi Palmer and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, black folks are finally rediscovering their country roots.


I’d like to dedicate this record

Right here to my main man

Johnny Cash, a real American gangsta…

Grand Ole Opry, here we come

—Snoop Dogg, “My Medicine”

There’s long been an assumption that black folks and country music just don’t mix—even though that assumption completely erases from history the music and success of Charley Pride, Ray Charles and even the Pointer Sisters: To many blacks, country music is seen as synonymous with rednecks and white supremacists, its incongruity with pigmented people, relegating it to little more than a bad punch line in pop culture. (Cue Samuel Jackson and Bernie Mac stranded at a country juke joint in Soul Men! Two brothers singing country and dancing the two-step! Hilarity ensues.)
For far too long if you loved country, and you had, what Pride called a “pigmentation situation,” chances are, you kept that love on the down low.

Now, it seems, it may finally be OK to come out of the closet.
Oprah recently dedicated an entire show to country music, declaring, “Country music is the real soul music!” Sitting next to her was
Darius Rucker, of Hootie and the Blowfish, who made history atop the country charts, the first African-American solo act to have a No. 1 country hit since Pride wrapped things up in 1983. (Ray Charles, performing with Willie Nelson, had a hit in 1984.)

In an interview with The Root, Rucker said country comes as naturally to him as any other kind of music. “Country music is just part of what I like,” he said. “To me, it wasn’t country or soul or rock. It was all just music to me.”

And Rucker’s got plenty of interesting company. The black country scene, it seems, is booming. These days, there’s Pittsburgh-born Rissi Palmer, who, in “Country Girl,” insists that country is “a state of mind, no matter where you’re from.” There’s Cleve Francis, the guitar-playing cardiologist.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a black bluegrass band, does a mean cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” on banjos and fiddles. Then there’s Cowboy Troy, dubbed “the world’s only 6’5” rapping black cowboy”: