“Cowboy Carter”: The Past and Future of Country Music

Beyoncé "Cowboy Carter" album cover by Blair Caldwell

Beyoncé is the first Black woman to achieve a number one country album with “Cowboy Carter.” The album is genre-bending and rule-breaking, blending elements of pop, hip-hop, and country. It’s no secret that the country music industry has a reputation for being exclusive and discriminative and “Cowboy Carter” is Beyoncé’s response.

In an Instagram post promoting “Cowboy Carter,” Beyoncé stated: “This album has been over five years in the making. It was born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed…and it was very clear that I wasn’t.” The experience she is referring to has been speculated to be the 2016 CMA awards when she performed her first country song “Daddy Lessons” with the Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks). The performance sparked backlash and even a “#BoycottCMA” movement from fans who didn’t think that Beyoncé belonged in the country music scene. The CMA awards seemed to agree, deleting promotional videos of the performance from their social media. Beyoncé said, “because of that experience, I did a deeper dive into the history of Country music and studied our rich musical archive.”

Her research and attention to detail is evident when listening to “Cowboy Carter.” The album pays tribute to country legends like Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Linda Martell. She also shares the stage with up and coming Black country artists throughout the album.

The second track. “Blackbird,” is a cover of the 1968 Beatles song written and recorded by Paul McCartney for “The White Album.” His inspiration came from the Little Rock Nine, a group of Black students who were the first to desegregate Little Rock Central High School in 1957. In his 1997 biography, “Many Years from Now,” McCartney wrote of the song: “This was really a song from me to a black woman, experiencing these problems in the States: ‘Let me encourage you to keep trying, to keep your faith, there is hope.’” Beyoncé’s rendition of the song features four rising Black country stars: Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts.

Tracks 12 and 19, “The Linda Martell Show” and “Spaghetti,” feature Linda Martell, who was the first commercially successful Black female country artist. Martell was forced to retire early in her career due to conflicts with her manager and producer, Shelby Singleton. “He blackballed me… So no one else would record me. It ruined my reputation in country music,” she told Rolling Stone in a 2020 interview. In an Instagram post, Martell expressed her pride for Beyoncé and stated: “What she is doing is beautiful, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

“Cowboy Carter” combines the history of country music with Beyoncé’s artistry to create something inspiring. While people still debate whether or not it is the future of country music, it is still a record breaking achievement that is far overdue. Beyoncé has arguably opened the door for Black artists in the country music industry, even though they’ve been there for years. In her own words: “This ain’t a Country album. This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album.”