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The Black Opry reclaims country music

The Black Opry Revue, a touring musical show, has created a platform for Black country musicians. The revue comes to the Minneapolis Cedar Cultural Center on March 2nd. Founder Holly G says, while she’s always loved country music, something was missing: a cultural connection.

“I was under the impression that I was the only Black person that was listening to country music,” she said. “And now that we created this platform, all of these people are coming forward and being like, Well, I didn't ever want to talk about it. But now, I actually do listen to stuff and I do like it. But nobody felt comfortable saying that out loud when the person that's making the music is waving around Confederate flags.”

Holly G says she grew tired of country music being white-washed when it has a rich history founded on the contributions of Black artists.

“It's hard to relate to things when the industry has done such a good job of making it feel like it is not a place that is for us. Especially when you consider the fact that the way the genre started was white people that learned music from Black people, and then took it as their own and made this industry off of it and then locked us out of it. So when people say ‘is this a revolution?’ I'm like, ‘No, it's reclaiming.’”

Holly G says she was excited by the progressive conversations sparked within the world of Country music by the uprising for George Floyd. But ultimately she finds the results to be performative.

“Like, yeah, it's great that you're putting Black artists on your playlists and a couple on a show here and there, but that's not retraining your audience,” she said. “If you've only shown this very conservative white audience, white people for the last 100 years, putting one Black artist in the mix of that, it's not going to make them listen to that Black artist. And so it's like we have to build an entire new demographic that will appreciate these artists and be a safer space for them to exist.”

Holly G says while searching for Black Country artists, she came across Rissi Palmer’s radio show, Call Me Country, which spotlights artists of color. Inspired by Palmer, Holly created a blog to talk about Black artists in country music. It quickly snowballed into something much bigger, including the Black Opry Collective, with more than 250 performing members, and the Black Opry Revue Tour, which provides a regular platform for its members.

“Now we have this whole community of people. It's a really weird feeling to go from feeling like you're the only person in this situation, to having this platform of all these people who felt the same way. A lot of times when artists perform with us for the first time, they'll be like, I've never seen another Black person in a green room that I've been in. And so it's a privilege and an honor to be able to provide that for people.”

The Black Opry tour comes to the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis this Thursday, March 2nd. The show will feature performances by Tylar Bryant, Julie WIlliams, Nikki Morgan, and Tae Lewis.

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