A Country’s Conscience

doodle of musical notes and a set of headphones plugged into a heart

Was it serendipity that introduced me to a certain country music artist the same week that justice was served for murder victim George Floyd? I can’t know why, after being so late to the party on this music, I discovered it when I did. (Thank you CBC’s Tom Power on Q for the introduction.)

Country music and I have had an off-and-on relationship for a long time. My first two full-time radio jobs were at country stations. (Red Deer, AB, and Prince George, BC) My late Dad loved country, or “country and western” as he insisted on calling it long after “and western” was dropped.

Dad had two standout favourite songs: I’m Gonna Hire a Wino by David Frizzell, and Goodbye Earl by The Chicks. My parents saw Kenny Rogers, Donna Fargo and loads of other legendary country stars on various trips to Vegas. Mom was a little bit rock and roll but she had her country faves too.

In the 1990s, I flew to Nashville several times for Fan Fair to stack up interviews with country stars for a magazine called Country Wave. My real job at the time was hosting a talk show.

Since then, I’ve only paid attention to country mostly when an artist has made news, good or bad, or a song became a massive crossover hit. I know who many of the artists are by pop culture osmosis. But I’ve only just heard about one of them and I’m racing to catch up.

Mickey Guyton isn’t your garden-variety country music star. She’s female and she’s black. And now that she has finally earned some clout, she’s pushing back against the old timey biases that still permeate the musical genre and the industry as a whole. The very biases that held her back for so long despite possessing rare and exquisite talent.

Her voice is gorgeous and she’s written or co-written some compelling songs. Her 2020 hit, Black Like Me, grabbed the US by the ear and said, knock it off with the racism. She cohosted last weekend’s Academy of Country Music Awards with Keith Urban. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.

Some still stigmatize country music fans as racist, gun-toting, pickup-driving rednecks with confederate flags in the windows. It’s simply not true. They’re as sophisticated and kind as any other collection of people. But the US (and Canada, too) could use a kick in the Wranglers over the way some of its people are treated. George Floyd’s murder wasn’t the last. And convicting his killer is just the beginning.

Black Like Me came out a year ago and I completely missed it. Now I’m down the rabbit hole of Mickey Guyton music and I’m becoming a fan. She’s giving a voice to what so many are thinking but she’s more than an activist. She’s smart and super talented as an artist. And if I’m late to the party, maybe you are too.

Mickey Guyton – Black Like Me

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