WCU Student's Review of Black Country Music by Royster

Kiara O'Malley, a Western Carolina University student in Lyn Ellen Burkett's History of Country Music class wrote a book review on Francesca T. Royster's Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions.  Enjoy!


Kiara O’Malley
Brinson Honors College
In Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions, Francesca T. Royster creates a
listening guide through country and country-adjacent music by Black artists. She argues that
Black culture is inherently intertwined with country music and that enjoying country music as a
Black person need not be an isolating experience. She does this by analyzing music of artists
with varying involvement in country music, inserting her own story of being a Black, queer,
country-loving woman, and encouraging readers to consider a different outlook on country music
and its history.
Royster considers a compelling roster of artists in this book. Some are firmly rooted
within country music like Darius Rucker, and some have been uprooted, like Tina Turner. She
analyzes well known artists like Lil Nas X and Beyonce, and does not shy away from bringing
lesser-known musicians into the conversation as well. In doing so, she provides a fresh approach
to listening to established artists, and offers up new listening experiences with artists in need of
an introduction. For each artist, Royster discusses both their life and music. After each chapter,
the reader is left with newfound knowledge about the musician and an abundance of songs to
listen to. Even for listeners familiar with most of the songs discussed in the book, Royster poses
a very personal approach to listening, opening up a chance to hear songs with a new perspective
and a new mind.

Readers might wonder if some of these artists really have a place in a book on country
music. Royster sets out to prove that this question is obsolete. She instead focuses on how Black
people can create community around country - the idea of it, the sound of it, the culture
surrounding it - regardless of the fan base’s opinion of their presence. She writes, “Rather than
simply asking for a place at the table, the artists in this book are using country music as a way of
exploring a more complex Black identity.” (pg. 175). She describes the genre of country as a
musical landscape, one that must be navigated by Black artists carefully.
Royster’s own story is interwoven within the pages of this book. Alongside the struggles
of Black musicians and fans within the country music scene are her own struggles navigating her
life, encountering isolation or comfort. She draws parallels between injustices toward the
featured musicians and the ones she faced during many different experiences as a Black queer
woman. While Darius Rucker may not be queer himself, his story is mirrored in Royster’s. This
personal aspect of the book offers a perspective that may be unfamiliar to many white readers.
By offering a queer perspective, Royster opens up a to whole new world of potential
readers. Royster reshapes what it means to be a Black queer country music fan in a way that
draws readers into her stories. The connection made between Black country music and queer
identity may come as a surprise to readers, since queerness is not referenced in the title of the
book. However, it becomes a topic that is brought up time and time again throughout the book.
Royster says, “For some [Black country fans], loving country – or even just having an
intellectual curiosity about it – is the other “love that dares not speak its name,” to evoke that
old-fashioned description of queer, closeted life.” (pg. 6).

Royster’s first-person narrative brings a personal, friendly tone to the book. It feels like
she is a close friend sharing her observations, yet she maintains an air of legitimate knowledge.
Of course, she has a multitude of sources as seen in her endnotes, but her depth of knowledge on
the subject is evident in the way she writes. This book also serves as documentation of her
journey through the musical landscape of country. She has lived and breathed her research. In
her conclusion she says, “If I started out this book looking for my people at the Windy City
Smokeout, for those of us who love country music and count ourselves as Black, I’ve found
them.” (pg.186). She has found out for herself just how many Black people enjoy country and
contribute to the country music landscape that had seemingly gone untraversed by people like
her. Her story can bring hope to other Black country music fans that had also thought themselves
to be alone in this landscape as well.
An element that does not seem to be included in this book is an in-depth musical analysis
of the songs mentioned. Rather, there is a much deeper focus on the cultural and societal impact
of the songs. Where there is a lack of attention towards stylistic features such as form and
instrumentation, there is an abundance of attention paid to lyrics, and in some instances, visual
design of music videos. This is no cause for complaint, however. Only a warning for potential
readers with a trained musician’s ear hoping for a book centered around technical analysis.
Through scholarly analysis of a wide range of Black musicians, intimate inclusions of her
own story, and the offering of new perspectives, Royster introduces all kinds of readers to the
pioneers and participants of Black country music and turns hopeful eyes and ears toward a future
of inclusion that transcends genre and identity. She imagines a world where people can enjoy
music together regardless of skin color. Black musicians have always been a part of country
music, and one day, Black fans will be able to come out and love this music unapologetically.


Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions (American Music Series) By Francesca T. Royster Cover Image
ISBN: 9781477326497
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: University of Texas Press - October 4th, 2022

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