Features, Uncategorized

‘Cowboy Carter’ holds lesson in American history and reclamation of legacy

By Destiny Berry

It doesn’t matter if you are tired of hearing about Beyonce, or if you don’t like her. What is important is what she is doing. Many times, people lose receiving a message because of the sender. America is nothing without Black people. Socially, economically, and culturally we set the standard and trend.

American history is rich with the contributions of the Black community. From fashion to music, we have left a mark. Beyonce’s Three Act trilogy weaves together the story of American music. Country music started with the banjo. The banjo is an instrument brought with enslaved African people during the slave trade era, a dark time in American history.

Like most major music categories, Country music had a few spinoffs. Gospel and the Blues were the offspring of Country like Hip-hop is the offspring of Jazz. From Gospel sprung Rock ‘n Roll, something Beyonce alludes to on “Cowboy Carter.” Funk also springs from that lineage, with the string instruments being the focus of the sound in those subgenres.

Country music began with Black people. Linda Martell was once a prominent name in Country Music. She has only ever recorded one album and quit music shortly after. Why? During a performance in 1941, it was made very clear that Martell was not wanted there. People in the crowd called her racial slurs and heckled her. That experience haunted Martell ever since. Despite that experience, she was the first Black female solo Country star to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, had three charted singles, and appeared on a popular country show.

Despite country music being dominated by White faces, there are still Black country stars. Unless you were already a fan of these stars, Beyonce introduced Shaboozy, Brittney Spencer, Reyna Roberts, Tanner Adell, and Tiera Kennedy on Cowboy Carter.

Rock ‘n Roll Sister Rosetta Tharpe took some elements of gospel to create the Rock ‘n Roll sound. As the sound circulated, names in history like Chuck Berry and Little Richard excelled in the genre, earning titles like “Godfather of Rock ‘n Rock, and King of Rock ‘n Roll.

Even the name of the album points to history. The term ‘cowboy’ was originally used for Black people only, while the White cowboys were called ‘cowhands’. ‘Boy’ was a term often used to belittle Black men and their manhood.

It can be quoted as my opinion, since I am not on Beyonce’s staff, but I believe Act III will absolutely be a Rock album. If you are familiar with the late Tina Turner’s sound, then you will understand what I see when I hear the track “Ya Ya.” Remember that gospel is an offspring of Country, and Rock ‘n Roll is the offspring of Gospel thanks to Sister Tharpe. “Ya Ya” is still giving the Cm but also that rock feel that reminds you of Tina Turner. The major connection is the guitar, which is the main instrument used in Funk and Rock ‘n Roll. With that, I need Whole Wheat Bread, Paramore, Panic @ the Disco!, The Txlips and more to be front and center. The dive into Rock ‘n Roll will be a great addition to this trilogy.

What we are witnessing is another Black Creative Movement. Black Creative movements have happened all through history. Some well-known ones include the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts movement in the 80s, where Amiri Baraka was one of the main artists spearheading the movement. There was also a movement in the early 2000’s, with shows like “Girlfriends” and “One on One” being major tv shows. Let’s not forget about “That’s So Raven.” Between 2011-15, there was a small Black Creatives movement that had formed again. It was kicked off with Issa Rae, Donald Glover, Jordan Peele, and even shows like Blackish. This current movement was once again kicked off with Issa Rae. Quintata Bruson, A Black Lady Skit Show, K. Michelle, Lovecraft Country, Beyonce, Flyana Floss, Lil’ Nas X and more

Top Dawg Entertainment, a music label based out of Southern California has become a fixture in Hip-Hop. It felt like a new era for Black artists. K. Michelle decided to walk into the Country Lane and has handled herself very well. She has done covers on songs like Tennessee Whiskey and even performed with Jelly Roll, a White country music star at the CMAs. We also cannot forget a true pioneer, by the name of Nelly. He released a country album in 2007. He proved he could be an artist in both Hip-Hop and country. The album was received well, and there are still mentions of Nelly’s musical accomplishments.

Lil’ Nas X had the children and adults in a chokehold, when he released “Old Town Road” featuring Billy Ray Cyrus in 2019. He even continued some of that country sound on his other hit song, “Panini.” All of these artists have taken their talent and dipped into other sounds in music. They all refuse to be boxed in and prove themselves every time in every release.

Beyonce took this album and shined a bright light on artists who are long overdue for recognition and flowers. What she is doing with these albums, is reclaiming genres that belonged to the Black community. The issue comes when genres get dominated by new faces and push out the original faces, as well as cover up the past that began with those same faces. It’s like stealing an invention and patenting it, making sure the original creator never gets credit. That is what happened with house/vogue, country, and Rock ‘n Roll. It was tried on Funk and blues. We even see it today with attempts at R&B and Hip-Hop.

A Black Art Renaissance is happening. It has been happening for a time and Cowboy Carter is holding up the banner. Support as many Black artists as you can. They create shows, music, fashion and more. Help us to continue to push the legacy that our ancestors created for us. Not only are we creating content and pushing our stories as diverse as they are, but we are also reclaiming our roots as well. We are ensuring that our legacy is never forgotten. We are America, too.