At the time of the Super Bowl in February, 2024, pop singer Beyoncé Knowles released two new singles that sounded a little different than her usual stuff. One of those two singles called Texas Hold ‘Em went to number 1 on the Billboard Hot Country chart and eventually number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. In late March, Beyoncé followed up with the release of a new album called Cowboy Carter that featured artists like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. The outrage was not far behind.

There were some who suggested that since Beyoncé was a “Black artist,” she had no business messing around with Country music. There were others who suggested that Beyoncé was purposefully making a mockery of a sacred genre. And yet even others suggested that this was a clear example of the dreaded “cultural appropriation” that gets tossed in like a hand grenade with the worst possible timing. Since I’m a music guy, I was asked A LOT of questions about this album, so I decided to share a summary and crystallization of my thoughts. What follows is not a critique nor an endorsement. Just my thoughts.

First, and perhaps most significant, is this an example of cultural appropriation?  Absolutely, positively, no. For those blissfully unaware, “cultural appropriation” is a negative accusation that occurs when someone of one culture borrows and uses aspects of someone else’s culture. A shallow, visual example of this would be a white guy wearing a Cherokee war bonnet, and a deeper, more thought-provoking example would be the Japanese martial arts stealing certain forms from Chinese kung fu. Although claims of cultural appropriation have turned into a global phenomenon, the one with which most Americans are familiar would be claims that much of “White culture” in America is loaded with examples of “Black culture” being ripped off.  Therefore, claiming that Beyoncé is guilty of cultural appropriation as a Black singer recording in a White genre is totally inaccurate.  It smacks of petty retaliation, yet raises an important question. How can a Southerner rip off Southern culture?

Beyoncé Knowles was born and raised in Texas. Her mother is a Texas native, and her father is from Alabama. It wouldn’t be a stretch to understand that Beyoncé grew up listening to some high-quality Country music all her life. One of the greatest aspects of growing up Southern is the constant exposure to different genres and styles of Southern music, and Beyoncé should be no exception. Although I don’t know this to be a fact, I can’t imagine a Southern musician’s childhood being any different. Also, the concepts of “Black music” and “White music” in the South are a complete Yankee fabrication. Yankees may call it that all they want, but it’s not their music, so what they say doesn’t count.  It’s OUR music, and we call it “Southern music.” To a Yankee, Soul music is Black and Country music is White.  To a Southerner, both Soul music and Country music are Southern, and that’s all we need to know to understand it. And if a Texan wants to record Country music, then I say, “You go, girl.”

The next part of this problem revolves around the optics of a Black musician “crossing over” and recording a different genre normally considered outside of their expertise. I’ll bet Ray Charles could say a thing or two about that following his landmark 1962 Country-inspired cross-over album called Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. But for me, as a musician, the important question is, “Was it Country music?”  I’ve never considered Ray Charles’ album to be a Country album, but more correctly a “Country-inspired” album. The biggest single from the album, I Can’t Stop Loving You was very similar to the more lush, orchestral sounds made popular by Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold, which also don’t sound like traditional Country, and received airplay on pop stations, Country stations, and R&B stations. However, I never believed Ray Charles intended the album to be considered a Country music album, but a Country-inspired album. A Southern album, if you will.  I also believe the exact same thing could be said for Beyoncé.  Although Cowboy Carter features traditional Country artists, Country sounds, and Country songs, and has seen significance on both pop, Country, and R&B charts, I also don’t count the album as a Country album.  It’s Country-inspired. In other words, it’s Southern.

Finally, is this album a mockery of Country music? Once again, my answer is no. For one thing, I haven’t found a single example of digital finger snaps anywhere on this album that horribly infest modern Country music today. Talk about offensive…Cowboy Carter is an album of inclusion rather than exclusion, and contains a Beatles song as well as a Dolly Parton song.  The opening sound effects from her duet with Willie Nelson called Smoke Hour are the sounds of running up and down the dial on an AM radio in any Southern town – you get a few seconds of practically everything, and if you’re Southern, you know exactly what that sounds like.

I was a little skeptical at first, but I feel better about Cowboy Carter after listening to it for myself.  It’s not a Country album – it’s a Beyoncé album.  As difficult as this must be for Yankees to comprehend and accept, it’s also not a Black album or a cultural appropriation of White music by a Black singer – it’s a Southern album. As I tell my Music Appreciation students, I’m not trying to turn a single person into a fan of this music, and I don’t care if you like it or not. I’m just trying to give you the tools you might need to understand it a little better, and then the rest is up to you.

Tom Daniel

Tom Daniel holds a Ph.D in Music Education from Auburn University. He is a husband, father of four cats and a dog, and a college band director who lives back in the woods of Alabama with a cotton field right outside his bedroom window. His grandfather once told him he was "Scotch-Irish," and Tom has been trying to live up to those lofty Southern standards ever since.


  • Paul Yarbrough says:

    “There were some who suggested that since Beyoncé was a ‘Black artist,’ she had no business messing around with Country music”
    Nor did Charlie Pride, I suppose.

  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    Cherokee War Bonnet? The Grey Kepi, hat , I suppose.

    Cherokee descend from Asians and Caucasians who moved through the land bridge now known as the Bering Strait. A few daring Caucasians sailed the Atlantic to get here.

    We all know what country music is…there is some decent country music being made…but making music is a dying art, or maybe making money from making music is dying…I hope it’s the latter.

  • Lisa says:

    Ridiculous. This is all about the Marxist, cultural left wanting to blackify and whore-ify traditional white spaces because they’re not black enough. That’s all this is. I am shocked you can’t see this. All she is trying to do is stomp on any culture and tradition that doesn’t include her. Her “music” is not organic but AstroTurf designed to disrupt and diminish. Please get a clue.

    • Marx says:

      There’s a town way down in Chile I reckon you might like. Ifin you can’t make it, try flying a kite.

  • Sam McGowan says:

    I live in Texas, right down the road from where the Knowles family lived and may still live. I don’t know. I grew up in Tennessee, which is the birthplace of country music, which is NOT Southern. Some of the greatest country stars were not Southern. Texas music is not Southern nor is it country. It’s different. I first learned this from a black friend in the Air Force from Texas who grew up on country and liked Leftie Frizzele, who was from New Mexico. I hung out in dance halls when I first came to Texas to live 30 years ago and many of the patrons were black. Black Texans are different and some of them are descendee from real cowboys. The George Ranch, one of the oldest ranches in Texas is a few miles from me. The cowboys were black, starting out as slaves. I don’t know if Beyonce is seriously but she may very well be.

  • Gordon says:

    I absolutely love Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, Patty Loveless… also Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Gladys Knight… Lou Rawls, George Benson… Donna Summer. I’ve loved Charlie Pride since “Kiss an Angel Good Morning”, respected him more after he told the hens on “the view” that country music fans have been good to him.

    I gave the first Beyonce Knowles country single a chance. It starts out pretty cool, even sounds country. Before the end at least twice utter profanity is used. I’m not a prude. I’m an expert with the words, judiciously used, most often when I’m by myself. Good songs and artists don’t need it. A good artist can sing the phone book and I could sing along all day.

    It’s also insulting that I’m expected to like it.

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