Who gets to be in country music?

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From Editor in Chief Sam Jacobs
Who gets to be in country music?
By Sam Jacobs
Editor in Chief

One of the best parts of working at TIME is the opportunity to share our pages with outside contributors and bring our readers their perspectives.

This week, we featured a piece from Alice Randall, the author of the book "My Black Country," which publishes in the United States on April 9. Alice holds the distinction of being the first Black woman to write a number one country hit, Trisha Yearwood's "XXX's and OOO's."

"I've been writing Country Music and amplifying Black genius in Country and Black stories in Country for forty-one years!" Randall wrote to me earlier this spring. With the release this week of Beyoncé's country-exploring album Act II: Cowboy Carter, Randall's timing, publishing a new work reflecting on the Black roots of country music, couldn't be better.

In 1983, Randall attended the Country Music Association's 25th anniversary celebration. The event was held at the DAR Constitution Hall, where management forbade Black opera star Marian Anderson from performing in 1939. It was on that stage, at the anniversary celebration in 1983, where Ray Charles, who recorded 1962's Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, performed "America the Beautiful."

Randall reflects on that night and on how it contributed to Beyoncé's inheritance. "As I see it, Beyoncé is the genius child of Ray Charles. The daughter who eclipses the father. The reflected light of her triumph makes visible both the lineage from which she aesthetically descends and the reality that Black country is a big tent…"

And so we asked Randall to dig into this history, one that is both personal and political. "The question of 'Who can be in country music?' often masks a deeper query about 'Who can be a real American?'" she writes.

I hope you enjoy Randall's piece. Let me know what you think? Sam@time.com.

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