Published August 6, 2020
In 2003, the country music industry essentially canceled The Dixie Chicks after lead singer Natalie Maines criticized President George W. Bush leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Last month, the band dropped “Dixie” from its name, a nod to brewing cultural changes that stem from worldwide protests for racial equality. Along with a new album and public statements, the band is clearly at odds with President Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
Country’s music response? Hardly a raised eyebrow.
There are reasons for this, says Stephanie Vander Wel, UB associate professor of music, who has written extensively on gender, class and regionalism in country music.
“While still largely a male-driven industry that identifies with conservative ideology, country music is more diverse than it lets on,” says Vander Wel, whose new book, “Hillbilly Maidens, Okies, and Cowgirls: Women’s Country Music, 1930-1960,” focuses on women in country music and their migration out of the South.
Vander Wel is quick to note that The Chicks have firmly crossed over into the more progressive-friendly pop music market, which wasn’t necessarily the case in 2003. And, at this point, the left-leaning beliefs of its members shouldn’t surprise even casual fans.
Still, The Chicks aren’t alone. Other popular country singers, especially younger ones, are openly declaring their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and other progressive causes, as well as criticizing a sitting Republican president.
“Country music artists are not endorsing him (Trump) like they’ve done with previous presidents. This is due, at least in part, to the president’s racist rhetoric and policies. It has created room which is allowing some country artists to speak against police brutality, racism and other polarizing issues,” Vander Wel says.
Country music, she says, has always been “full of artists who have pushed against jingoistic, nostalgic sentiments from the 1930s and until now.”
While Nashville has been the epicenter of country music for decades, that wasn’t always the case. Country music was “not a product of Nashville until the late 1940s and early 1950s. Before then, it came out of places like Atlanta, Chicago and California,” she says.
Now, with the music genre bigger than ever, its disparate voices are undeniable.
“Country music has had a diverse listening audience. But today, I think the diversity of country music and its fans is becoming much more apparent.”