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Beyoncé’s new country music sparks mix of praise, criticism among Chicagoans

On Feb. 11, singer, songwriter and businesswoman Beyoncé released her songs “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages,” two country departures from her usual R&B roots. Both singles are a part of her upcoming album “COWBOY CARTER,” due for release on March 29. After the release, “Texas Hold ‘Em” quickly reached No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

The songs were met with a mix of praise from her fans, many of whom feel like there is plenty of space for her in the country music scene, and critics that lambasted the singer for going country.

“This isn’t the first time she’s done country,” Jalen Evans, 18, a longtime fan of the artist and current Chicago high school student said. “With her song ‘Daddy Lessons’ on [her album] ‘Lemonade,’ she did a country [song].” 

But some country fans and radio stations were caught off guard by the new releases. One Oklahoma radio station notably refused to play the song when it was released. Fans of the singer were angry, but Erik Zachery, 32, a radio and podcast personality who currently teaches the class “On the Air: Be a Radio Host” at Columbia College Chicago, said the refusal wasn’t bigotry.

“It’s a smaller station in Ada [Oklahoma]. There are more students here in this building than there are listeners to that station,” Zachery said. “Her label [Columbia Records] might not have put the proper genre on their mailing list,” which he said could further lead to confusion at the station. However, Zachery said, “I’m not excusing the fact there is a big problem with racism and prejudice in the industry.”

Reactions to new songs were also greeted with more intense criticism. When asked about “left-leaning artists” entering the country music field, John Schneider, former Dukes of Hazzard star and Masked Singer contestant, told One America News that, “Every dog has to mark every tree, right? So that’s what’s going on here.” 

Lil Nas X, too, has seen his 2018 hit “Old Town Road” questioned for being “country enough.”

But in fact, Black people have always been a part of country music, which has roots in Black history, as the filmmaker Ken Burns explores in his 2019 documentary “Country Music.” Many early country songs and music were derived from Black life in the South and drew inspiration from spirituals, hymns and work songs sung by slaves. Between the mid-1920s and early 1930s, dozens of early country records featured Black artists at the forefront. But as country music became more commercial, these Black musicians were overlooked and replaced by white figures.

“She’s doing the album to reclaim her Black cultural roots,”  Janae Reid, a junior fashion design major at Columbia College Chicago said. 

For fans like Reid, the switch in genres is affirming. 

“Not only is it uplifting the Black community, but it’s also reclaiming our African-American roots in the genre,” Reid said.

Additional Reporting by Natasha Valentine & Jasmine Herrera.

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