Beyoncé's use of Black writers, musicians can open the door for others in country music

Billboard reported Tuesday that Beyoncé’s single “Texas Hold ‘Em” had been officially serviced to country radio. It’s a step of formality, one dictated by the industry’s archaic allegiance to terrestrial radio and, relatedly, its need to control which songs and creators are allowed to ascend to country music’s highest heights.

No matter the millions of people who want to hear Beyoncé on country radio or witness her acknowledgement at the Academy of Country Music's awards show or the Country Music Association's show, this servicing is a necessary first step. It is not, however, a certainty – explicit or otherwise – that a majority of country radio stations will play “Texas Hold ‘Em,” or that they’ll play it enough for the song to chart high enough for ACM and CMA award eligibility.

The country music industry is a standalone fortress, built and reinforced over the past century as the music business at large drew artificial genre boundaries along more obvious racial divisions. The good news (for those who’ve found success within country music) and bad news (for those who haven’t) is that the industry is neither beholden to, nor moved by, outside forces.

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As the industry’s major record labels made pledges to diversify their business operations in the aftermath of George Floyd’s 2020 murder, there was no external pressure for their Nashville divisions to follow suit.

Indeed, even as Sony fully supports Beyoncé’s country endeavors, its own Nashville offices and rosters – on both the label and publisher sides – remain glaringly white.

All Black creatives have been shut out of country music

But we’re talking about Beyoncé now, and when talking about Beyoncé, the immensity of her brand, her ability to move culture and conversation, can’t be ignored.

While her (long-term) impact on the country music industry remains to be seen, her potential influence on the country music genre is far easier to ascertain.

And what we know is that Beyoncé dropped two songs that are indeed country but also unabashedly Beyoncé. This is not a statement on their perceived quality (I’m not a critic) but rather an assessment of their adherence to her musical aesthetic.

Like them or not, “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” aren’t just country records. They are Beyoncé country records, which means they are Black country records, created in collaboration with other Black folks and meant to show the diversity of creative expression among them.

It's a critical point because, for all the acknowledgement of the Black musical tradition that rests at the foundation of the country genre, or even the obvious reliance on hip hop, R&B and other Black stylings in modern country, Black people are largely shut out of country music’s creation. They are thus exempt from receiving the credit and remuneration for their contributions.

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This precedent was set in the beginning, back at the Bristol sessions of 1927, when a record producer in his mid-30s named Ralph Peer headed to East Tennessee on behalf of the Victor Talking Machine Co. Peer’s job was to scout and record musical talent from across Appalachia in an effort to increase his employer’s market share (and profit) within the burgeoning “hillbilly” genre.

Black songwriter and producer Lesley Riddle helped lay country music's foundation

While in Bristol, Peer recorded A.P. Carter, his wife, Sara, and sister-in-law Maybelle. The Carter Family, as they would come to be known, stood beside Jimmie Rodgers (also recorded at Bristol) as the first stars of country music.

Songs like “Can the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Wabash Cannonball” constructed the country music canon; in the decades that followed, second and third generations of the Carter Family took their turns on the industry’s main stages.

What’s less known is that the Carter Family owes much of its early success to a Black man named Lesley Riddle. It was Riddle who guided A.P. Carter on a tour of Black Appalachia, gathering songs from the folk singers and bluesmen dotting the area, musicians who married their unique guitar stylings with distinctly Black melodies and cadences.

While A.P. wrote down the lyrics, Riddle memorized everything else, using his own guitar to make beautiful music. When A.P. and Riddle reconnected with Sara and Maybelle, Riddle often tweaked the songs they had gathered to perfectly suit the Carters’ recordings.

Riddle should have been credited as a producer or writer on those Carter Family recordings; not surprisingly, he wasn’t. He left the industry a few years later, moving to New York with his wife and making his living shining shoes and working as a school crossing guard.

But just as the Carter Family’s legacy persisted, so did Riddle’s. He is the forefather of country music’s dependence on Black creativity and simultaneous erasure of Black creatives – a practice so ingrained in the industry that even Black country artists participate.

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Beyonce's work with Black creatives should open more doors

Across Nashville and beyond, Black songwriters, producers and musicians have been waiting for the opportunity to take part in the genre their forefathers helped build, to not be told they’re too urban for Nashville studios, or that, because they grew up playing Gospel bass or guitar in the church, they couldn’t possibly know country music.

Justus West is credited on guitar for Beyoncé’s “16 Carriages.” He isn’t as well-known as Rhiannon Giddens, Raphael Saadiq or Robert Randolph, but he’s a Black multi-instrumentalist who picked up guitar as a kid and never put it down, who believed that his experience and expertise would help him navigate a country industry built on a mere three chords – manufactured truths aside.

Rhiannon Giddens and band at the Ryman Auditorium, Sept. 15, 2023
Rhiannon Giddens and band at the Ryman Auditorium, Sept. 15, 2023

At the suggestion of Vince Gill, West moved to Nashville from Kansas City shortly after high school graduation. Like so many before and after, West didn’t stay long; he didn’t see the promise in playing a game that was designed for him to lose.

He moved to Atlanta to start again, ultimately receiving a call that could change everything – for him and others like him.

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Because while the very existence of “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” serves as a resounding yes to the question of whether Beyoncé and her music are “country enough,” the more important point is this:

In the hopes of diversifying all of country music – of preserving the sanity and livelihoods of Black creatives who’ve continued to face brick walls even as some Black artists have seen increased opportunity and popularity – Beyoncé’s efforts prove that Black songwriters, producers and musicians are “country enough,” too.

Andrea Williams is an opinion columnist for The Tennessean, where this column first published, and curator of the Black Tennessee Voices initiative. Email her at or follow her on X, formerly Twitter: @AndreaWillWrite

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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Beyoncé's 'Texas Hold 'Em' makes room for Black creatives