The Year in Country: The Times, They Are A-Changin’

In 2020, perhaps more than any year before, country music made strides toward social change. But it wasn’t without its share of controversy.

The Dixie Chicks became the Chicks, while Lady Antebellum opted to officially adopt their nickname, Lady A, to remove words associated with slavery. The latter transition sparked an ongoing legal battle, as Seattle-based singer Anita White accused the trio of trying to co-opt the name from a Black artist who’d been using it for years.

Artists like Maren MorrisCassadee Pope and Charlie Worsham showed their support for Black Lives Matter on social media, while “Mississippi Girl” Faith Hill championed removing the Confederate symbol from her home state’s flag — which the state ultimately did.

Leave it to none other than Dolly Parton to say it best: “And of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white a**** are the only ones that matter? No!” she told Billboard.

Meanwhile, both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music worked to give Black artists a bigger platform. Darius Rucker co-hosted the 2020 CMA Awards, which included Jimmie Allen’s presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Charley Pride. Sadly, country’s first Black superstar passed away just weeks later from complications of COVID-19.

Both shows included appearances by Nashville-based gospel legend Cece Winans, while Kane Browndelivered a moving rendition of his anthem “Worldwide Beautiful” on the ACMs. Keith Urbanaccompanied Mickey Guyton on piano for one of the night’s showstoppers, a stripped-down version of “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” The up-and-coming female vocalist ended the year with a Grammy nomination for her thought-provoking track, “Black Like Me.”

2020 was also a year where female artists continued to make strides in the male-dominated format. In April, Gabby Barrett and Ingrid Andress made history, becoming the first female artists to ever to consecutively top the chart with their debut singles, “I Hope” and “More Hearts Than Mine,” respectively.

Though she’s won lots of awards, Ashley McBryde also managed to clinch her first top-ten hit in September with “One Night Standards.” Maren MorrisKelsea BalleriniCarly Pearce and Miranda Lambert continued to find success on the airwaves, while newcomers Tenille ArtsCaroline Jones, and Priscilla Block made their mark on the chart for the first time.

By Stephen Hubbard
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