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African-Americans and country music: Did You Know?

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 24, 2000

  • Belting It Out
    African-American country music artists have no greater champion than Frankie Staton, the human whirlwind behind a new movement in Nashville.

    Waiting for stardom
    A photo gallery and short bios of black country artists who Frankie Staton is trying to promote.

    The banjo originated in Africa.
  • Black string bands in the 1920s and 1930s helped shape the sound of Texas swingband king Bob Wills.
  • The singing of black railroad workers influenced country legend Jimmie Rodgers. Black Kentucky guitarist Arnold Schultz helped shape the playing of bluegrass great Bill Monroe.
  • Original black Opry member, harmonica star DeFord Bailey, inspired Opry founder George D. Hay to name the show the Grand Ole Opry in 1927.
  • Country music originated as a working class format played by whites and blacks. Record companies divided it up in the 1920s and after, marketing country as "hillbilly music" for white audiences, and "race music" for blacks.
  • In the early 1960s, R&B superstar Ray Charles heightened country's popular profile with two volumes of Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music, with Charles recording many country hits that had been done by white artists.
  • Charley Pride, signed by RCA in 1965, scored 52 Top 10 Records with 27 No. 1 hits between 1966-92, earning Country Music Association Male Vocalist of the year awards in 1971 and 1972.
  • Stoney Edwards of Seminole, Okla. had some chart success following Pride's path, but fell short of stardom and mainstream recognition, as did O.B. McClinton and Ruby Falls.
  • Black pop stars enjoyed some country hits in the '80s, including Ray Charles duet with George Jones, and Lionel Richie writing a No. 1 hit for Kenny Rogers (Lady), and teaming with Alabama for a No. 10 hit (Deep River Woman).

Based on information in the Encyclopedia of Country Music


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