2023 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2023 ARSC Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research, Association for Recorded Sound Collections
How Black musicians have changed the country music landscape and brought light to Black creativity and innovation.
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.
About the Author
Francesca T. Royster is a professor of English at DePaul University, author of Sounding Like a No-No: Queer Sounds and Eccentric Acts in the Post-Soul Era and Becoming Cleopatra: The Shifting Image of an Icon, and coeditor of “Uncharted Country,” a special issue of the Journal of Popular Music Studies on race and country music.
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. Brooks
Black 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 Abdurraqib
Francesca 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 Randall
Francesca 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 Palmer
An original, timely and much-needed entry in the long-overdue national conversation on representation and accountability in the country music industry. — Los Angeles Times
Black 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 16
Black 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
Royster examines not just the erasure Black artists have faced in country music, but the many ways they are reclaiming their presence in it. At the same time, she also interrogates her own relationship with country music as listener, fan, and banjo player...Royster explores the spaces Black country artists are carving for themselves. — JSTOR Daily
[A] groundbreaking work…Black Country Music is a must-read for any music fan. — Texas Monthly
An important examination on the erasure of Black voices and music expression in the world of American country music. — New York Amsterdam News
Black Country Music arrives as mainstream country music continues to grapple with its longstanding marginalization of minorities. Along with artists that broke through to country radio, like Charley Pride and Darius Rucker, [Royster] spotlights a new generation of artists, including Our Native Daughters, Allison Russell and Leyla McCalla, while explaining the industry's need to take an honest look at inclusion — and the genre's lackthereof. — The Boot, "10 Best Country Music Books of 2022"
Provocative and illuminating...Every fan of country and Americana music should read this book. — No Depression, "2022's Most Memorable Music Books"
Royster addresses the dismissal that Black country music artists and fans feel within this community, combining memoir writing with journalism as she focuses on specific Black artists helping to create space in a genre that appears too willing to neglect its own roots...In Black Country Music, the featured artists are sometimes surprising (Tina Turner, Beyoncé), but in sharing their efforts in the genre, the Black community can reclaim country music as part of their present. — SPIN, "Best Music Books of 2022"
Black Country Music is an exhilarating book, and Royster’s ingenious blend of memoir and analysis showcases the emerging artists and fans that she affirms are 'changing what country music looks and sounds like.' — No Depression
Black Country Music follows the author on an observational and historical journey through the racially divisive undertones of American country music...This book is just as personal as it is a well of knowledge regarding the history of the Black country tradition and the artists who contribute to it, past and presence. — New York Amsterdam News, "Best Black books of 2022"
A thoughtful and thought-provoking read...I found Royster’s explanations to be very accessible and moving, and I would happily read more from her. I hope her work is widely read now and in the future by country music fans from all kinds of backgrounds. — Book Riot
Country music encompasses so much more than one would be led to believe by what’s being promoted and by what has been written and rewritten about countless times. Thankfully, Francesca Royster’s new book tells the story of Black songwriters/performers/fans in the white male-dominated world of popular country music. It’s a history that has been obscured, hidden, white-washed, overlooked and outright denied for way too long. This is a really fantastic and inspiring book that opens up a whole new world of country and folk music. If you think you know it all you don’t! — Southern Bookseller Review
Today, black singers and songwriters are producing some of the most interesting country music around: Mickey Guyton, Amythyst Kiah, Rissi Palmer, Brittney Spencer—to name a few. They are the latest wave in a long and complicated history of black involvement in and influence on country music, as expertly detailed by Francesca T. Royster in Black Country Music. — Wall Street Journal
A compendium that studies the history and future of African-American achievement in the genre. — The Tennessean
Francesca T. Royster’s prose deserves consideration regardless of this book’s novelty. It is well-researched as well as sensuous and personal, and the insights about artists ranging from Lil Nas X and Rhiannon Giddens to Tina Turner and Beyoncé are incisive. . . This work is strong and adds much to the study of country music, race, and American music. — Pop Matters