Black Country Music
Listening for Revolutions
American Music Series
Sales Date: October 4, 2022
After a century of racist whitewashing, country music is finally reckoning with its relationship to Black people. In this timely work—the first book on Black country music by a Black writer—Francesca Royster uncovers the Black performers and fans, including herself, who are exploring the pleasures and possibilities of the genre.
Informed by queer theory and Black feminist scholarship, Royster’s book elucidates the roots of the current moment found in records like Tina Turner’s first solo album, Tina Turns the Country On! She reckons with Black “bros” Charley Pride and Darius Rucker, then chases ghosts into the future with Valerie June. Indeed, it is the imagination of Royster and her artists that make this music so exciting for a genre that has long been obsessed with the past. The futures conjured by June and others can be melancholy, and are not free of racism, but by centering Black folk Royster begins to understand what her daughter hears in the banjo music of Our Native Daughters and the trap beat of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” A Black person claiming country music may still feel a bit like a queer person coming out, but, collectively, Black artists and fans are changing what country music looks and sounds like—and who gets to love it.
As superstar Lil Nas X might put it, 'can’t nobody tell me' that Francesca Royster’s dazzling book isn’t a necessary and groundbreaking work in popular music studies. Both riveting and moving, Black Country Music weaves together a number of urgent and critical threads of inquiry—interrogating overlooked and ofttimes underloved Black pioneers who made rich and innovative music in spite of marginalization, and exploring present-day rule-breaking artists who are inventing new ways of narrating their own sounds and their often complicated relationships to country. At its heart, this book insists that we reckon with both the Blackness that lies at the heart of country music and the fearlessness of generations of musicians who laid claim to a sonic culture that was slow to acknowledge their worth. It's a book for the national moment in which we find ourselves.
— Daphne A. BrooksBlack Country Music holds within it vital history and also serves as a vessel for Francesca Royster's gentle, reliable, and immersive storytelling, weaving an expansive narrative to hold up the untold and undertold stories of the music-makers at the heart of America's many sounds.
— Hanif AbdurraqibFrancesca Royster’s extraordinary book puts Black country artists and audience in conversation with Black thinkers Audre Lorde, Claudia Rankine, bell hooks, and Camille Dungy, among others, to center the radical work that is revealed as Royster listens for, and finds, strains of revolution within Black country. Her work at the intersection of Afrofuturism and Black country is necessary reading for all interested in the evolution of Black aesthetics.
— Alice RandallFrancesca Royster gets to the heart of the matter with this book. She plots the journey of self-acceptance and defiance that has marked every one of our journeys in country music.
— Rissi PalmerAn original, timely and much-needed entry in the long-overdue national conversation on representation and accountability in the country music industry.
— Los Angeles TimesBlack Country Music delves deeply into the tensions, pleasures, and contradictions that Royster, as a Black queer woman, finds in country music as a genre and a cultural signifier. The book weaves history, criticism, and memoir into an elegant narrative that challenges assumptions about what country music can be.
— Chapter 16Black Country Music is an astounding work of musical history and cultural reckoning...This is a must-read for anyone who enjoys country music, music writing, Black history, and Afrofuturism.
— Bearded Gentlemen Music
- Introduction. Where My People At?
- Chapter 1. Uneasy Listening: Tuning into Tina Turner’s Queer Frequencies in Tina Turns the Country On! and Other Albums
- Chapter 2. “Love You, My Brother”: Darius Rucker’s Bro-Intimacy and Acts of Sonic Freedom
- Chapter 3. How to Be an Outlaw: Beyoncé’s Daddy’s Lessons
- Chapter 4. Valerie June, Ghost Catcher
- Chapter 5. Can the Black Banjo Speak? Notes on Songs of Our Native Daughters
- Chapter 6. Thirteen Ways of Looking at Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road
- Conclusion. Black Country Afrofuturisms: Mickey Guyton, Rissi Palmer, and DeLila Black