Black Opry Revue features black country and folk singers

Country music has never been as white as it claims.

The banjo has its roots in West Africa. Black harmonica player DeFord Bailey helped start the Grand Ole Opry in the 1920s. Hank Williams was tutored by an Alabama blues musician Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne.

The late Charlie Pride and Darius Rucker are household names, but deserving black artists by Stoney Edwards in the 70s to Rissi Palmer in the 2000s were not welcomed with open arms by the country’s establishment.

But many Black country and Americana bands are now making themselves impossible to ignore. Mickey Guyton’s star is on the rise since his song “Black Like Me” became a hit following the 2020 police killing of George Floyd. She sang “The Star Spangled Banner” at this month’s Super Bowl and will perform the Roots Picnic in June.

by Allison Russel outdoor child topped my Inquirer list of the best albums of 2021. Last week, it was announced that Milton, Del., Country singer Jimmie Allen will be joining american idol as a mentor.

And Jason Isbell’s historic stand at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in October featured opening sets from seven black women, including powerhouse singer Brittney Spencer and bluesman Adia Victoria.

READ MORE: Rising star Brittney Spencer, playing two gigs in Philadelphia on Friday: ‘I’m a black woman and I love country music.’

This all brings us to the Black Opry Revue, the concert tour promoted by impresario and lawyer Holly G., a country fan from Virginia who founded Black Opry to create “a home for black artists and black fans of country, blues, folk and American music” in 2021 because she didn’t feel comfortable going to country concerts as a lonely black woman surrounded by a sea of ​​white faces. She started the Black Opry website, she told Rolling Stone, as “trying to heal my relationship with [country music] over all.”

During AmericanaFest last September, Holly G. co-hosted a Black Opry house in Nashville where black artists she discovered online could play music together. This turned into the Black Opry Revue, which played City Winery Philadelphia on Wednesday. and will perform at Arden Gild Hall in Delaware on February 26.

At the Winery – where the venue still required proof of vaccinations despite the city dropping that mandate for dining out – the Revue featured Sug Daniels, Jett Holden, Roberta Lea, Tylar Bryant and Autumn Nicholas, who were on stage together throughout what was often an emotionally devastating 2 hour and 15 minute spectacle.

Holly G. introduced the quintet, saying the goal of the Black Opry Revue “is to diversify country music and change how it looks and sounds”.

She develops this on the Black Opry website: “Country music has been made and loved by black people since its inception. For just as long, we’ve been overlooked and ignored in the genre by fans and execs alike. Black Opry wants to change that.

Daniels, who lives in Philadelphia and first made a name for himself with the Wilmington Hoochi Coochi band, played the ukulele, seated to the left of her counterparts who toured together but only met this afternoon. The camaraderie between the like-minded musicians was instantaneous: “I feel like my cousins ​​are coming to town,” she said.

The show’s porch “guitar pull” format ran for five rounds, with each artist taking turns presenting a song. (When the tour arrives at the historic Arden Hall, where Lead Belly played in 1947, The places of Daniels and Nicholas will be taken by Aaron Vance and Lizzie No.)

Of City Winery’s five artists, Bryant, who is of Texas descent, was the one whose style came closest to contemporary commercial country, from his resonant voice to his trucker hat and a NASCAR reference in a song titled was written on his jeans. jacket: “Stay wild.”

Lea is a Nashville-based former schoolteacher and rugged vocalist whose music leans towards country-soul. “Ghetto Country Streets” was melancholic and nostalgic. “Sweet Baby Ray” and “King Size” were the sexiest songs of the night. And a new song that revolved around the phrase “If I’m too much of a woman for you, then you’re too little of a man” pleased the crowd.

Daniels, which opens for John Oates & Guthrie Trapp at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville on March 16 focused on songs of her Franklin Street EPs, which are open, inviting and instantly hummable. She makes good use of the uke. One standout was “Heavy,” about taking the risk of suggesting a relationship get out of the friend zone.

Heavy is also a word that applied to the thematic content of the evening, which intensified after Nicholas, whose tense and deeply personal songs are reminiscent of Ani DiFranco, sang “On a Sunday”, about coming to terms with her sexual identity while growing up in the church in North Carolina.

Holden followed with a song about coming out as gay from his Jehovah’s Witness family. The guitarist with a strong taste for gothic country and a striking, raspy, hauntingly high-pitched voice, was working at a Tennessee call center and posting songs on YouTube when he was contacted by Holly G., whom he credited for “doing a great job of traveling and bringing together black artists.

Later, Holden sang an amazing song called “When I’m Gone”, about a friend’s suicide. In turn, Bryant then sang “If You Need an Angel” about his brother’s suicide.

But the most impressive song of the night was Holden’s “Taxidermy,” which he recorded after receiving a $500 grant from Palmer, who champions black country artists on it. color me the country Podcast.

The song denounces religious hypocrisy. “I will believe my life matters to you, when the Bible is not a tool you use to crucify,” the Black Opry Revue star sang tonight, while also criticizing the virtue of social media which, when unaccompanied by anti-racist action, can amount to reducing black trauma to nothing more than “taxidermy on your Facebook wall”.

Black Opry review with Roberta Lea, Aaron Vance, Tylar Bryant, Jett Holdenand Lizzie No at Arden Gild Hall, 2126 The Highway, Arden., Delaware.

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