By KRISTIN M. HALL, AP Entertainment Writer
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – Morgan Wallen stepped onto country music’s most historic and richest stage over the weekend, a sign many have interpreted as the Grand Ole Opry giving the struggling star his blessing and a path to reconciliation after using a racial slur on camera.
As the country star’s return in the public eye seemed inevitable, a tweet from the Opry about Wallen surprising fans on his regular Saturday show drew sharp criticism of the predominantly white institution. and his history as a guardian.
Artists such as Yola, Allison Russell, Rissi Palmer, Noelle Scaggs of Fitz and the Tantrums, Joy Oladokun, Chely Wright, as well as Grammy winners Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell, explained how Opry’s decision could have consequences. disturbing for artists of color in country music.
“Morgan Wallen’s thoughtless redemption tour is the nail in the coffin of me realizing these systems and this city isn’t really for us,” Oladokun wrote on Sunday.
Wallen was filmed last year using a racial slur and although some organizations temporarily banned him, he returned to the airwaves and remains the Most Popular Artist of 2021 across genres. He resumed touring the arenas last year and released new music, including collaborations with rapper Lil Durk, who is black, and country artist ERNEST. Wallen made an unannounced appearance on the Opry, which has been broadcasting for nearly 100 years, to sing along with ERNEST.
This time the criticism focused more on the silent signage of the Opry than on Wallen himself.
“It’s the idea of a young black artist walking into this place and wondering if ANYBODY is on their side,” Isbell wrote. “What many of us consider a great honor can be terrifying for some.”
For many black artists, the promises of change and racial fairness within country music institutions continue to ring empty.
In 2021, writer Holly G started a blog called Black Opry to create a hotbed for black artists and fans. Since then, it has grown in less than a year to become a full-fledged community and shows in venues across the country. The enthusiasm for what she created grew so much that venues turned to book shows.
She met the artistic director of the Opry and offered to host a show next month for Black History Month in conjunction with Black Opry. She said that Opry’s rep stressed that they carefully select who appears on their stage.
After Wallen’s appearance, Holly G wrote a letter requesting an explanation of how the Opry felt Wallen met their standards.
“They figured out that they could invite a few black performers on stage and debut them and that will calm people down or calm people down a bit,” she told The Associated Press on Monday. “But if you look at the structural structure of the institution, nothing has changed. They have two black members throughout the history of the institution.
An Opry publicist did not return a request for comment from the PA, and Holly G said she also did not receive a response to her letter on Tuesday morning.
Shortly after Wallen’s video posted on TMZ, the country singer apologized and told fans not to defend his racist language. But his fans galvanized their support for him, boosting his streaming numbers when radio stations took him off playlists. Wallen himself acknowledged a lack of awareness when asked on “Good Morning America” in July of last year if country music had a problem with breed. “It would sound like that, yeah. I didn’t really sit down to think about it, ”he replied.
A Wallen publicist did not return a request for comment from the AP.
Charles Hughes, professor at Rhodes College in Memphis and author of “Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South”, said that playing the Opry – one of the most important institutions in the history of the genre – legitimizes artists.
Hughes said Wallen’s path, via the Opry and other stages he performed on, looked like the ‘wayward white artist’ being welcomed back into the family.
“The reconciliation story is really powerful… and reconciliation without any calculation, real calculation, can actually be worse,” said Hughes. “…
Musician Adia Victoria noted that blackface clad minstrels have performed comedies on the Opry for years. The very first Opry performer for the first show in 1927, harmonica player DeFord Bailey, was fired and left the music business. Only Charley Pride, who died in 2020, and Darius Rucker have been officially invited to become regular members. The Opry management team selects member artists based on their professional success, such as sales and industry recognition, and their commitment to their audience. Wallen is not a member, but was a guest artist.
The moment for Wallen’s appearance at Opry came the same weekend that Grammy-nominated country star Mickey Guyton tweeted about a racist commentator, while white country star RaeLynn said in a statement. interview with a conservative podcaster Gender was not racist because she had never experienced racism herself. Guyton is black.
The confluence of all these incidents in a matter of days has been exhausting for artists of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, said Holly G. That is why she sees the need to create new spaces and organizations outside of the long-standing institutions of the kind that didn’t make everyone feel welcome.
“We’re going to create our own audiences, our own stages and our own traditions,” she said. “It’s not worth fighting to share space with people who unequivocally don’t want you there.”
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