Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions
by Francesca T. Royster

Dr. Francesca T. Royster’s Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions (University of Texas Press, 2022) is a unique study that analyzes the past, present, and future of Black Country Music: the performers, the fans, and the author’s own connections as a queer, feminist scholar and fan of country music. 

Royster examines how Black musicians have altered the landscape of country music, bringing Black creativity and innovation to a genre that has typically and traditionally “belonged” to white performers and audiences. “What I discovered,” Royster noted in a recent interview, “was there are all these hybrid kinds of music that draw from country, but when you’re a Black artist, and you’re creating a hybrid music, the default is to call it something else, not country because of the ways that country music has been marketed that’s trying to separate it from Black culture.” 

Below are two videos that feature Royster speaking about and reading from her important and innovative text. And here is the jacket copy of Black Country Music (provided by the publisher):

After a century of racist whitewashing, country music is finally reckoning with its relationship to Black people. In this timely work—the first book on Black country music by a Black writer—Francesca Royster uncovers the Black performers and fans, including herself, who are exploring the pleasures and possibilities of the genre. 

Informed by queer theory and Black feminist scholarship, Royster’s book elucidates the roots of the current moment found in records like Tina Turner’s first solo album, Tina Turns the Country On! She reckons with Black “bros” Charley Pride and Darius Rucker, then chases ghosts into the future with Valerie June. Indeed, it is the imagination of Royster and her artists that make this music so exciting for a genre that has long been obsessed with the past. The futures conjured by June and others can be melancholy, and are not free of racism, but by centering Black folk Royster begins to understand what her daughter hears in the banjo music of Our Native Daughters and the trap beat of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” A Black person claiming country music may still feel a bit like a queer person coming out, but, collectively, Black artists and fans are changing what country music looks and sounds like—and who gets to love it.

Royster, a native of Chicago, is a professor of English at DePaul University, author of Sounding Like a No-No: Queer Sounds and Eccentric Acts in the Post-Soul Era and Becoming Cleopatra: The Shifting Image of an Icon, and coeditor of “Uncharted Country,” a special issue of the Journal of Popular Music Studies on race and country music. Her essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Chicago Literati, and Feminist Studies, among others. Her memoir, Choosing Family: A Memoir of Queer Motherhood and Black Resistance, was recently published by Abrams Books. 

“Can the Black Banjo Speak?” and Other Questions
with Francesca T. Royster
from the Cary Memorial Library, February, 2023.

Black Country Music with Francesca Royster
and Rissi Palmer
from Popular Music Books In Process, November, 2022.


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