Through a new memoir and album the songwriter spotlights country music's Black roots

My Black Country by Alice Randall
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An album of Alice Randall’s songs and a memoir of her time, insights and experiences working in Black country music– both titled My Black Country – were released earlier in April

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Alice Randall is a country music songwriter, novelist and scholar who’s setting the record straight on the Black origins of country music.


Through a new memoir and an album featuring her music the songwriter spotlights country music’s Black roots

Alice Randall earned her spurs as Nashville royalty the hard way. The trailblazing Black country music songwriter, novelist and scholar moved south from her Detroit home in 1983 to crack country’s white barrier – largely male – and reclaim the genre whose roots were borne from her people. In 1994 she became one of the first Black women to co-write a No. 1 song on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart – XXX’s and OOO’s sung by Trisha Yearwood – which she wrote with Matrac Berg. (Donna Summer lays claim to being the first with her co-write of Dolly Parton’s Billboard Hot Country Songs hit Starting Over Again).

Forty one years later Randall’s telling the story of her struggles and time in the often hostile industry with a just released memoir and a new album – both are titled My Black Country. The 11-song collection of her forthright compositions is presented by a high test group of Black women artists. The cast includes Rhiannon Giddens, Valerie June, Allison Russell, Adia Victoria, Sunny War and Randall’s daughter Carol Randall Williams.

It’s the first time any of the songs in her small and acclaimed collection have been recorded by Black artists.

“For years, I had populated my own country songs with Black characters only to discover, when the songs were performed by White artists, those Black identities had been erased from country radio’s audio landscape and purged from mainstream America’s understanding of the south and the west,” Randall wrote in a CNN opinion piece.

“I wanted to rescue my Black characters. This album does that; it centers black female creativity, but it welcomes co-creators and allies from a myriad of identities.”

Respected producer Ebonie Smith carefully reviewed Randall’s hits recorded by artists including Glen Campbell, Moe Bandy, Marie Osmond, Judy Rodman, Radney Foster and Trisha Yearwood. One writer noted that Randall’s songs were often “Trojan horses” for getting progressive ideas onto country radio. Smith encouraged each of the 11 vocalists to find their own interpretations of the tunes. The result is a timeless and powerful collection of sometimes haunting compositions, beautifully sung and produced.

The Beyoncé Boost

Randall’s timing for the release of her book and album are fortuitous. The late March launch of Beyoncé’s 27-song country-tinged opus, Cowboy Carter, has generated a tsunami wave of discussions and opinions in the country music scene and pop culture world about the under representation of Black musicians – especially women – in the music of the American south.

Beyoncé’s impact could “start a groundswell of long overdue recognition of the overlooked Black country legends and hope for the Black country stars of the future,” says Randall. She notes that the Texas-born superstar’s country foray is not her first.

“She blew into Nashville in 2016 with Daddy Lessons and was summarily rebuffed by the industry. She certainly wasn’t treated like the member of the country music family. So she decided to host her own family reunion — and she significantly broadened the guest list.”

My Black Country: A Journey Through Country Music’s Black Past, Present, and Future

Randall is Harvard-educated and a professor of African-American Diaspora Studies and writer-in-residence at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. She’s a New York Times best-selling author for her first book, 2001’s The Wind Done Gone an unauthorized parody of Gone With The Wind.

My Black Country is her eighth book and she rewrites country music history to set the story straight on the role of Black people who have only recently been properly acknowledged for their seminal role in developing the genre. She told the New York Times earlier this month that she “was injured by the mythology” that white musicians were the founders of country. ” I am interested in creating counter-narratives.”

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20 April 2024


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