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Artists, historians examine country music’s past and future

NASHVILLE (TNN) -- Country music's most prominent stars were preparing to celebrate the annual CMA Awards. A group of historians, artists, and academics gathered to rectify the past and suggest ways it could expand beyond its traditional white lines.

Speakers addressed the exclusion of Black artists in country music history and if the industry could be more welcoming of artists of color. They were just steps away from Bridgestone Arena.

It was called the Rosedale Summit, and took place Monday in Nashville at both the National Museum of African American Muic and the Grammy Museum Los Angeles. This event acknowledged the recent struggles of the genre to address race.

It's long overdue. "The CMAs will be held later in the week, and we want to have an open discussion about the award's true purpose," stated Sam Viotty (co-founder of Rosedale Collective) and one of the organizers.

Country music faces racial representation challenges this year beyond the glittery awards and spectacular on-stage performances. Morgan Wallen, one of country music's most prominent stars, was disqualified from the CMAs after he was caught using a racial slur on camera. However, he remains a nominee to album of the Year.

Country music's problems in 2021 reflect what had been happening for decades. Frankie Staton and Dr. Cleve Staton, both pioneers and activists, spoke out about their experiences as Black country musicians being silenced.

Francis quit his job as a cardiologist in order to pursue a career with country music in the 1990s. He said that he was told by a videographer that country music would only support Charley Pride.

Francis said, "It was as if the music business shook the music trees and only one Black man could sing Country music." "They accepted no one else."

He continued to tour and record, and he co-founded the Black Country Music Association.

"It was not enough to ask people to allow us into the industry. Francis stated that we needed our own recording studios and our own association.

Frankie Staton was later appointed to the position. He hosted the first showcases for Black singersongwriters at Bluebird Cafe. This venue is known for making songwriters well-known.

Staton stated that when she started selling her songs in Nashville, the publishing houses rejected her because they didn't believe her. Her dream was to help others just like her.

She said that it wasn't the fans who stopped her from performing country music.

Their work is the basis for current leaders such as Rissi Palmer (an Apple Music Radio host) who created The Color Me Country Artist Grant program to support artists of color; The Black Opry; Rosedale Collective's foundation which is starting an artist residency.

Artists who work in Nashville have acknowledged that there has been some progress, even though it is decades later. Valerie Ponzio is a Latina-American country music artist from Texas. She said that there has been little progress in the writing rooms where hit songs are created.

Ponzio stated, "I would like to see it happen in the Music Row Writing Rooms, where we feel comfortable to bring in our stories in a Country Music setting."

Ponzio pointed out that many new country acts are composed of white men from Nashville. This is a huge advantage over new artists who might be Black, Indigenous, or Latino.

Ponzio stated that there are many artists who are funded but that they all are the same type. "So surprise, surprise. "So surprise, surprise. Who is making money on radio?"

Panels also challenged the tokenism Black artists face such as not being invited to certain events or being the only nonwhite artist in a line-up.

Reyna Roberts, an artist from country, spoke at the Grammy Museum from Los Angeles. "I cannot wait until it's not an everyday thing anymore.

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