NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – Morgan Wallen entered country music’s most historic and iconic stage over the weekend, a mark many interpreted as the Grand Ole Opry, which gave the troubled star his blessing and a path to reconciliation after becoming a racist Insult had used camera.
While the country star’s return to the public seemed inevitable, a tweet from the Opry Over Wallen’s surprising fans in his program, which is regularly broadcast on Saturdays, led to severe criticism of the mostly white institution and its history as a gatekeeper.
Performers such as Yola, Allison Russell, Rissi Palmer, Noelle Scaggs from Fitz and the Tantrums, Joy Oladokun, Chely Wright and Grammy winners Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell spoke about how the Opry chose artists from. Color in country music could have troubling consequences.
“Morgan Wallen’s thoughtless tour of salvation is the nail in the coffin for me to recognize these systems and this city is not really for us.” wrote Oladokun On Sunday.
Wallen was caught on camera with a racist slur last year and while some organizations temporarily banned him, he has returned to the airwaves and remained the most popular artist of 2021 across all genres. He’s toured arenas again last year and released new music including collaborations with rapper Lil Durk, who is Black, and country artist ERNEST. Wallen appeared unannounced on Opry, which has been broadcast for almost 100 years, to sing with ERNEST.
This time around, the criticism focused more on the silent signals from the Opry than on Wallen himself.
“It’s the brainchild of a young black artist who walks into this venue and wonders if SOMEONE is on their side.” wrote Isbell. “What many of us consider a great honor can be terrifying for some.”
For many black artists, the promises of change and racial justice in the institutions of country music continue to sound empty.
In 2021, writer Holly G started a blog called Black Opry to create a home for black artists and fans. Since then, it has grown into a full-fledged community and appearances at venues across the country in less than a year. The excitement for what she’s created has grown so much that venues are reaching out to book shows.
She met with the Talent Director of the Opry with a suggestion that they put on a show next month for Black History Month in conjunction with the Black Opry. She said the Opry representative had insisted that they carefully choose who appears on their stage.
After Wallen’s appearance, Holly G wrote a letter asking for an explanation of how the Opry felt Wallen met their standards.
“They figured out that they can take a bunch of black artists on stage and give them debuts and that will calm people down or calm them down a little,” she told The Associated Press on Monday. “But if you look at the structure of the institution, nothing has changed. You have had two black members throughout the history of the institution. “
An Opry publicist didn’t respond to a request for comment from AP, and Holly G said she hadn’t received a response to her letter by Tuesday morning either.
Shortly after Wallen’s video was posted on TMZ, the country singer apologized and urged fans not to defend his racist language. But his fans sparked their support for him and increased his streaming numbers when radio stations pulled him off playlists. Wallen himself admitted a lack of awareness when asked last July on Good Morning America if country music had a problem with race. “It seems so, yes. I haven’t really sat and thought about it, ”he replied.
A publicist for Wallen did not return a request for an opinion from the AP.
Charles Hughes, a professor at Rhodes College, Memphis and author of Country Soul: Making Music and Race in the American South, said that playing the Opry – one of the most important institutions in the history of the genre – legitimized artists.
Hughes said Wallen’s journey across the Opry and other stages he appears on seems like the “wayward white artist” welcomed back into the family.
“The narrative of reconciliation is really powerful … and the reconciliation with any reckoning, a real reckoning, can actually end worse,” said Hughes. “Because if you don’t bring up the problem, you just pretend it didn’t happen.”
Musician Adia Victoria noted that minstrels who wore black faced performed comedy acts in the opry for years. The very first cast member on the Opry for the first show in 1927, harmonica player DeFord Bailey, was fired and left the music business. Only Charley Pride, who died in 2020, and Darius Rucker were officially invited as full members. Opry’s management team selects artists based on their professional success, such as sales and industry recognition, and their dedication to their audiences. Wallen is not a member, but was a guest actor.
The time for Wallen’s Opry appearance came the same weekend when Grammy-nominated country star Mickey Guyton tweeted about a racist commentator, while a white country star RaeLynn said in an interview with a conservative podcaster that the genre was not racist because you’ve never experienced racism yourself. Guyton is black.
The coincidence of all these incidents in a few days is exhausting for artists of different races and ethnic origins, said Holly G. For this reason, she sees the need to create new spaces and organizations away from the long-standing institutions of the genre that t made everyone feel to be welcome.
“We’re going to create our own audiences and our own stages and our own traditions,” she said. “It’s not worth fighting to share with people who clearly don’t want you there.”
This post first appeared on Huffpost.com