Eight years after Darius Rucker burst onto the country scene with his breakout solo single “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” country music still has a notable color barrier.
In a piece recently published in the Dallas Observer, Rucker says, “I’m waiting for another African-American to break through in country and have a big thing.” So far, progress in shining a light on country artists who don’t fit the typical white male prototype has been painfully slow.
“I’ve never thought that it would change overnight — look, I’ve been here eight years, and it hasn’t changed in a big way,” continues Rucker. “But an African-American singer who sends a demo CD to a label now might get a listen, rather than it being tossed in the trash.”
It’s not a lot, but Rucker sees it as a start — thanks in part to his always positive demeanor and his refusal to be trapped by race baiting or attaching political undertones to his own career.
Rucker has always cited Charley Pride as a huge influence. Pride is, after all, country music’s most successful African-American artists, and one of the most successful country music artists period. Rucker even uses Pride as an example when it comes to confronting racism within the industry.
“When I first came into country music, I said, I can put up with anything, because whatever happens to me, Charley Pride went through things that were 10 times worse than I will ever encounter,” says Rucker.
Country music has a strong history of being a desegregated genre, with some of the biggest forefathers of the genre like Hank Williams and Bill Monroe both learning from and collaborating with African-American artists. In fact, country music was seen as a safe place for people of all colors when it came to playing together behind closed doors.
But that hasn’t changed the perception of country music as “white people” music, even if Darius Rucker’s success has helped African-America fans of the genre step out in their fandom.
“The thing that has really shocked me is the huge number of African-Americans who like country music,” Rucker says. “I’ve gotten so many notes and letters, and met so many people at shows, who say, ‘Thank you for doing what you’re doing, because now I can say that I like country.'”
He also notes that country music is the only “white person” form of entertainment that was supposed to undergo a renaissance after Pride and his successes. He cites Tiger Woods as a prime example. “There was a feeling that after [Tiger Woods] there would be more African-Americans in golf, but it’s still just Tiger,” Rucker says. “After Charley, there was the same feeling in country music. But I look at it now, and I think, are there going to be more guys and gals who are going to get a shot like I have?”
Given the quality of music coming from artists like Rucker and black female newcomer Mickey Guyton, we can only hope that the industry sees far past color and recognizes the talent in some of these incredible country artists, black, white and every other race.