7 African-American Country Singers Who Changed Country Music
DeFord Bailey was a pioneer not only for African American Country singers but for all country musicians. A world-class harmonica player, Bailey has the distinct honor of being the first country singer to be introduced on the Grand Ole Opry. Not just the first black country singer, the first ever country musician.
A rare appearance in 1974 launched the Opry's "Old Timers' Show," and Bailey received one of country music's highest honors when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005 — 23 years after he passed away.
One of our living legends of country music, Charley Pride, embodies everything there is to love about country music. With talent matched only by his resiliency and character, Pride rose to fame at the height of racial tension in America and eventually earned 39 No. 1 singles, selling over 70 million albums. The only artist to outsell Pride for RCA was Elvis Presley.
She may not be known traditionally as a country artist, but Tennessee native and American icon Tina Turner's stint in country music was huge both for her and for future generations of artists. She wasn't the first black pop/R&B artist to go country, but she chose to introduce herself to the world as a country musician to show her appreciation for the genre with the Grammy-winning Tina Turns the Country On!
Aaron Neville was born in New Orleans and grew up around the southern and Creole influences of Louisiana. He started off singing with The Neville Brothers but eventually had a solo career. Neville's voice is high and smooth and lends itself well to R&B, but the singer never limited himself to one genre.
One of Neville's most notable collaborations with a prominent country singer wasn't even for a country song. His work with Linda Ronstadt in 1989 for the Grammy Award-winning song "Don't Know Much" reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart that year.
Ray Charles is the rare artist whose music completely eclipses genre boundaries. And while, like Tina Turner, he's not known traditionally as a country music singer, Charles stepped into the country music spotlight several times and left a lasting impact. He first began recording country songs in the late 50s, and in 1962 he released Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.
Cowboy Troy was doing the whole "hick-hop" thing years before acts like Jason Aldean ("Dirt Road Anthem"), Luke Bryan ("That's My Kind of Night") and Florida Georgia Line ("This Is How We Roll") cashed in on it. Unlike artists who saw their stars rise with a hick-hop hit or two, it was never just a fad for Cowboy Troy, who started in 2001.
As a founding member and primary songwriter for soft rock band Hootie & The Blowfish (contrary to popular belief, the name was a combination of nicknames and Rucker was not "Hootie"), Darius Rucker co-wrote the 16th best-selling album of all time in Cracked Rear View. He always described his sound as more country-leaning and introduces the classic hit "Let Her Cry" as the first country song he ever wrote.
Rucker's Learn To Live and Charleston, SC 1966 cemented him as a mainstay in country music. He'd eventually go on to record one of the most-played country songs ever, his version of "Wagon Wheel."
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