Kicking Open Country’s Door With A Little Help From Beyoncé And Her Friends

2024 CMT Music Awards Portraits
COLOR THEM COUNTRY: (L-R) Reyna Roberts, Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer and Tiera Kennedy pose for 2024 CMT Music Awards portraits at the Moody Center on April 7, 2024, in Austin, Texas.
(Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for CMT)

Beyoncé is again having a gargantuan moment, after a record-setting year. Her “Renaissance Tour,” which concluded in October, racked up a prodigious $579.8 million to score the No. 2 ranking on Pollstar’s 2023 Top 100 North American Tours chart. She sold 2,776,854 tickets by the end of the 56-date trek and became the No. 1 Black concert headliner for grosses earned from a single tour.

For Queen Bey, however, that may have just been a warm-up for the cultural impact she’s already having this year with Cowboy Carter. The album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 and Top Country Albums charts, while “Texas Hold ‘Em” topped its Hot Country Songs chart, historic firsts for a Black woman. With its 27 tracks, Cowboy Carter’s current genre-busting ubiquity could well stretch through summer.

“This ain’t a country album. It’s a Beyoncé album,” she said of Cowboy Carter, but it’s more than that. She’s shining a bright light on the history of Black artists in country music, paying homage to and honoring trailblazers like the nearly forgotten Linda Martell and is raising up Black artists who collaborated with her in reclaiming the culture to the mainstream and creating something of a flashpoint.

Grammy Award-winning musician, historian and MacArthur Foundation “genius” Rhiannon Giddens (and Pollstar cover artist) contributed banjo to “Texas Hold ‘Em.” Giddens, represented in North America by Chris Colbourn of Concerted Efforts, has long been an advocate and practitioner of reclaiming the Black roots of country music and is in the middle of an extensive North American tour of her own that will conclude July 27 at Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island.

“Texas Hold ‘Em” may have shocked the music world, but within days eyes and ears were on the album’s second track, “Blackbiird.” Especially striking is the sonic effect of a chorus of four background singers on the track – a mostly faithful rendering of The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” written by Paul McCartney in 1968 and inspired by the American Civil Rights Movement.

The ethereal chorus transforms an otherwise simple, folky tune into a hymn. The four artists Beyoncé brought into the studio to create magic – Tanner Adell, Reyna Roberts, Tiera Kennedy and Brittney Spencer – are all solo recording and touring artists in their own rights, if not household names. But their visibility is already on the rise.

Between the track’s March 29 release and the April 7 Country Music Television Awards broadcast, the foursome was invited to serve as presenters of the Duo or Group Vocal award on the nationally broadcast, primetime awards show.

Adell is represented by WME and signed to Columbia Records in 2021, not long after she arrived in Nashville, releasing her debut album, Buckle Bunny, in 2023. She made her major festival debut at last year’s CMA Festival, and is to appear at Stagecoach in Indio, California, on April 27. She follows May 19 with a set at The Hangout Beach Music & Arts Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and returns to CMA Fest in Nashville June 9.

Kennedy, booked by WME and managed by Hill Entertainment Group, has supported Kelsea Ballerini, Carly Pearce and Danielle Bradbery and appeared at 2023’s CMA Fest among other festivals. She’ll release her debut single, “I Ain’t A Cowgirl” April 26 and is preparing a full album release later in the year.

Alaska-born Reyna Roberts, booked by UTA, has had some significant looks since touring with Jamey Johnson in 2021 and opening shows for Reba McEntire in 2022. She’s also a veteran of major festivals including Milwaukee’s Summerfest, Colorado’s Seven Peaks, Tortuga in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and 2022’s Stagecoach. Roberts is slated to appear at CMA Fest in June.

Brittney Spencer is on the verge of a breakthrough. Nominated as CMT’s Digital First Performer of the Year and Americana Music Association’s Emerging Artist of the Year in 2022, she released her debut full-length, My Stupid Life (Elektra), in January and her performance of “Burn It Down” with Parker McCollum was one of the highlights of the April 7 CMT Awards broadcast.

Represented by UTA’s Jeff Hasson and managed by Caitlin Stone Jasper of Activist Artists Management, Spencer appears this year on several major festival lineups, including Stagecoach, Railbird and CMA Fest. She’s been supporting Grace Potter in 2024, and will take part in Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival for the third year in a row.

All four also saw significant spikes in first-time Spotify listenership in the days following Cowboy Carter’s release, as well. Spencer saw an increase of 170% in first-time listeners, Roberts and Adell both went up 125%, and Kennedy saw a rise of 110% in first-time Spotify listeners after the album release, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Outside of the wondrous “Blackbiird,” other artists who may benefit from a Beyoncé bounce are Shaboozey, a multi-genre musician who appears on tracks “Sweet / Honey / Buckiin’” and “Spaghetti,” and whose Where I’ve Been, Isn’t Where I’m Going is set for a May release. Willie Jones, who teams with Beyoncé on “Jolene” and “Just For Fun,” will appear April 28 at Stagecoach and has a history of festival appearances and tours with the likes of Dwight Yoakam and Kidd G.

Beyoncé posted to Instagram that the inspiration of Cowboy Carter came from a sense she was unwelcome in the country genre. She aims to fix that, not single-handedly but shoulder to shoulder with a host of other Black artists – those she collaborated with on Cowboy Carter and others taking their places within, or in spite of, the country ecosystem. Artists like Kane Brown, BRELAND, Allison Russell, Yola, The War & Treaty, Mickey Guyton, Adia Victoria, Miko Marks, Leyla McCalla and crossover artists including Darius Rucker, Lionel Richie and Swamp Dogg.

A significant support community, Black Opry has grown up and around marginalized artists and continues to provide encouragement and touring support with the annual Black Opry Revue tour. Author Alice Randall, a Black woman with a long history as a top Nashville songwriter and author, has published “My Black Country,” a deep dive into Black country history and artistry that will be accompanied in May by an album of the same title, on the late John Prine’s Oh Boy Records label, of her songs performed by many of the artists breaking down Nashville doors, including Giddens and Russell.

“… When [one] group is held up above all else as the contributor and the maker of country music, along with some Black banjo players, that’s the narrative that you’re hearing now and it’s problematic,” Giddens told Pollstar in a September interview. “It’s more in a context of multiple groups creating the sort of primordial soup that American culture climbed out of.”

Whether Beyoncé considers Cowboy Carter a “country” album or not, what may matter most is that she helps fling open the rodeo gates for all to gallop through.