My Black Country: A Journey Through Country Music's Black Past, Present, and Future

My Black Country: A Journey Through Country Music's Black Past, Present, and Future

by Alice Randall

Narrated by Alice Randall

Unabridged — 11 hours, 10 minutes

My Black Country: A Journey Through Country Music's Black Past, Present, and Future

My Black Country: A Journey Through Country Music's Black Past, Present, and Future

by Alice Randall

Narrated by Alice Randall

Unabridged — 11 hours, 10 minutes

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Notes From Your Bookseller

With a narrative voice that could make any topic sing, this is an important cultural exploration of an often-overlooked chunk of the American music scene. Fans of country music, or of music in general, need this book.

Alice Randall, award-winning professor, songwriter, and author presents “a celebration of all things country music” (Ken Burns) as she reflects on her search for the first family of Black country music.

Country music had brought Alice Randall and her activist mother together and even gave Randall a singular distinction in American music history: she is the first Black woman to cowrite a number one country hit, Trisha Yearwood's “XXX's and OOO's (An American Girl)”. Randall found inspiration and comfort in the sounds and history of the first family of Black country music: DeFord Bailey, Lil Hardin, Ray Charles, Charley Pride, and Herb Jeffries who, together, made up a community of Black Americans rising through hard times to create simple beauty, true joy, and sometimes profound eccentricity.

What emerges in My Black Country is “a delightful, inspirational story of persistence, resistance, and sheer love” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) of this most American of music genres and the radical joy in realizing the power of Black influence on American culture. As country music goes through a fresh renaissance today, with a new wave of Black artists enjoying success, My Black Country is the perfect gift for longtime country fans and a vibrant introduction to a new generation of listeners who previously were not invited to give the genre a chance.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Novelist Randall (Black Bottom Saints) unearths the buried roots of Black country music in this intermittently insightful blend of memoir and cultural history. At eight years old, Randall moved with her mother from Detroit to Washington, D.C., where she was enrolled in a private school full of “left-wing hippy intellectuals” who were developing an interest in Black country. After graduating from Harvard in 1981, her fixation with country music brought her to Nashville, where she founded the record label Midsummer Music and worked to promote female artists before selling her shares and heading to Los Angeles to try to revive the Black western film genre and begin writing a novel. Woven through these autobiographical recollections are stories about the “First Family of Black Country”—Lil Hardin, DeFord Bailey, Ray Charles, Charley Pride, and Herb Jeffries. Randall incisively examines how these and other Black performers innovated country music starting in the late 1920s and early ’30s even as their lyrics and chords were “borrowed” or stolen by white artists and they were written out of the genre’s official history. The chronicle of Black country is fascinating, though its oblique telling sometimes frustrates; strewn unevenly throughout the narrative are tantalizing accounts of Randall’s brushes with big-name performers and odes to her favorite artists and records. Still, readers will find plenty here that enriches and complicates the story of country music. (Apr.)

From the Publisher

A poetic textbook of a history that has been erased.”
—Rosanne Cash, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member, and New York Times bestselling author of Composed: A Memoir

“Alice Randall is the perfect trailblazer to shine this light. In her book My Black Country, she hits all the notes of a great country song. She makes you smile, makes you cry, makes you realize the difficulty and beauty of these very human stories. The profound influence Black artists have had on the genre is so eloquently described, beautifully encapsulated in her own trailblazing role as the first Black woman to co-write a number-one country hit.
She’s a treasure.”
—Brad Paisley, Grammy award-winning country artist

“Alice’s unique position in Nashville, her family background, her talent for word craft, and her insatiable thirst for the truth position her as a much-needed voice and perspective on this seminal and overlooked piece of American cultural history.”
—Rhiannon Giddens, Pulitzer Prize and Grammy award-winning musical artist

"I loved reading about Alice Randall’s path to Nashville, as only she can tell it. My own journey to Music City could not have been more different than hers, but what we share is a passion for the music, and a determination to see the dream through, no matter the obstacle.”
Trisha Yearwood, Grammy, ACM, and CMA Award-winning artist and New York Times bestselling author

My Black Country pulsates with rhythms of suffering turned to melodies of enlightenment that is the closest thing we are likely to hear [to] John Lee Hooker and George Jones having a baby.”
—Michael Eric Dyson, Distinguished University Professor at Vanderbilt and New York Times bestselling author of The Black Presidency and Tears We Cannot Stop

“In a lesser writer’s hands, this book would reek of tracing or self-satisfied spectacle. In Alice Randall’s deft hands, we find a form unafraid of the joyful splinters in our national trauma and the saltiness of our region’s sweetest, most lasting creation.”
—Kiese Laymon, 2022 MacArthur Fellow and author of Long Division, Heavy, and How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America

“Randall’s knowledge and respect for the performers and musicians who came before her permeates this lyrical memoir/music history hybrid. Country music fans will relish reading it.”
Library Journal

"Randall beautifully weaves together history and her personal story in a narrative informed by a deep love of country music, her commitment to undoing an ugly legacy of whitewashing, and her determination to change the face of Nashville to create space for herself and other Black artists.”
Booklist, Starred Review

“Alice Randall’s My Black Country is a celebration of all things country music—including the wonderful mixture of people and traditions that contributed to this most American of art forms. She has a songwriter’s gift for storytelling and an ear for the sounds that ricocheted around the country, from southern hamlets to northern cities.”
—Ken Burns, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker

"Essential... A delightful, inspirational story of persistence, resistance, and sheer love of music.”
Kirkus, Starred Review

"A landmark book and an essential starting point for conversations about the nature of country music. It is true that mainstream dialogue comes late in country’s history, but coupled with Cowboy Carter, My Black Country feels right on time."
Bookpage, Starred Review

Library Journal


Award-winning songwriter and fiction and cookbook author Randall (Black Bottom Saints: A Novel; Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family) highlights the contributions of Black country artists and musicians while reflecting on her own life. She developed her love of country music as a young child in 1960s Detroit. When she moved to Washington, DC, with her activist mother, she found a love for listening to music from artists that she later dubbed "the First Family of Black Country": Lil Hardin, DeFord Bailey, Charley Pride, Ray Charles, and Herb Jeffries. Shortly after college, Randall set her sights on starting a music-publishing company in Nashville, where she was often the only Black person in the room at events. This memoir parallels Randall's tenacious journey as a songwriter with the history of country music and the contributions of the First Family and other Black artists. Her life story begins as the main focus but takes a backseat to the vast biographies of others after her bittersweet success in the 1990s. VERDICT Randall's knowledge and respect for the performers and musicians who came before her permeates this lyrical memoir/music history hybrid. Country music fans will relish reading it.—Anjelica Rufus-Barnes

MAY 2024 - AudioFile

A Black songwriting pioneer and Nashville insider, now a professor at Vanderbilt, is a tireless researcher into how Black musicians in the 1920s and '30s shaped the beginnings of what we now call country music. She says these men had no standing with that period's music gatekeepers and received no recognition, but they clearly influenced Jimmy Rogers, the Carter Family, and other pioneers of the genre. No one but Alice Randall could have performed this soothing rapprochement between today's decidedly White country music and its Black roots. Her engaging performance has vocal gravitas, a deep security about herself, and a potent message: Early country music and much of all popular music today is richer because of the traditions, ethos, and skills brought to this continent by African Americans. T.W. © AudioFile 2024, Portland, Maine

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2024-01-10
A Nashville-based songwriter and music publisher recounts an unlikely success story while celebrating the contributions of Black Americans to country music.

The winding stream that rolls below Clinch Mountain, where country music was supposedly born, surely lapped at the feet of one Eslie Riddle, a Black guitarist who likely taught Mother Maybelle Carter the “foundation of the Carter Family sound.” Everyone’s heard of Mother; no one’s heard of Riddle. It’s an erasure that troubles Randall, who argues with impeccable scholarship born of reading, close listening, and lived experience that country music is Black music, albeit with the “trace of Black folk whitewashed out of the rural South, the rural West, out of rural America on country radio and records.” Yet it’s there, and it won’t be silenced or denied. Randall is a firsthand witness to the struggle, the first Black woman to write a No. 1 country song, and she portrays forgotten and half-remembered greats such as Lil Hardin, Linda Martell, O.C. Smith, and Ray Charles (who may have made his bones as an R&B singer but also released a keystone album called Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music). Randall listens to country music with open, welcoming ears. In her canon, the Supremes fit into the Black country tradition, as do the Allman Brothers and John Prine. Steve Earle is a brother-in-arms; so is Quincy Jones, about whom the author delivers an entertaining tale of home invasion that fortunately turned out well. (“Quincy,” she writes, “is a whole lot more Black Country and Black Country–adjacent than most folks realize.”) Occasionally tart but more often both forgiving and patiently instructive, Randall tallies the debt that all country music owes to so many Black artists over the centuries.

Essential for country fans—a delightful, inspirational story of persistence, resistance, and sheer love of music.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940160120270
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 04/09/2024
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 408,904
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