[Editor's note: Country Time is a new biweekly column for our sister music blog in Seattle, celebrating that city's favorite musical genre: mainstream country.]
By Mike Seely
With the nation's major-party political conventions drawing to a close recently with a rousing reelection appeal from the nation's first black president, it seems fitting to cast a spotlight on an equally rare profession: the black country-music artist. Or, rather, the former black pop star seeking to reinvigorate his career by moving to Nashville. Lionel Richie and Darius "Hootie" Rucker both fit this description. Fittingly, their performance of Richie's "Stuck On You" was just nominated for a Country Music Association award for duet of the year, quite certainly the first time two African Americans have been nominated together in any category.
Will this mark an Obama-like moment in the genre's evolution? All signs point to yes.
Eight years ago, Richie was big in Germany, which is a polite way of saying he couldn't quite recapture his superstar status in the States (which, in turn, is an even more polite way of saying he couldn't book a gig singing the national anthem before a charity golf tournament in Delaware). So what's a brother to do to rejuvenate his career back home? Simple: Go country. Rucker did it, so surely Richie could. And, boy, did he ever, with his 2012 album Tuskegee--featuring twangy reworkings of his hits backed by country luminaries like Shania Twain and Kenny Chesney--topping both the country and pop charts.
Nashville's embrace of Richie and Rucker actually has more to do with Republican politics than it does with Obama. When right-wingers identify a person of color who's genuinely interested in joining their flock, they can't move fast enough to put that individual on a pedestal (anything to avoid looking like a Ku Klux Klan rally). Same with Nashville, which quickly put together a tribute concert honoring Richie, with the genre's biggest names performing his hits as Lionel gazed admirably at them from a prime seat in the audience. Does anyone really believe Luke Bryan spent his college years sipping white zinfandel in the back of his truck while listening to Can't Slow Down? Doesn't matter: Nashville's embrace of its newfound brethren was swift, absolute, and warm as a Smoky Mountain Holler in July.
Hopefully, other black recording artists thought to be washed up have taken notice of Richie and Rucker's success down south. Specifically, we're hoping the following 10 artists have, as we make the case for why the likes of Nelly and Brandy should pick up a banjo:
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