Blacks in Country Music

What two successful pop singers-songwriters crossed over into country music?

Former front man with the rock band Hootie & the Blowfish, Darius Rucker (1966–), a successful pop singer-songwriter, made his debut in country music in 2008, producing his debut disc, Learn to Live, with three hit singles. The disc went No. 1 on the country charts. With that success, Rucker became the first black singer to win the Best New Artist Award at the Country Music Association Awards in November 2008. Rucker calls himself a country singer. “I’ve always liked country music but never really told anybody,” he said. Some sources say that Rucker is “sitting on top of the country music world.” His single “Come Back Song” was on Billboard’s Top 10 country singles. Charleston, SC 1966, his 2010 CD, was number one on Billboard’s top country CDs, and after two months was still in the Top 20. Rucker is the first black to crack country music’s top 20 singles since 1988 and the first black to reach number one since 1983, when Charley Pride achieved that honor. He is also the first black with a number-one country CD or album since 1985, when Ray Charles achieved that success. A singer and songwriter, Rucker was born on May 13, 1966, in Charleston, South Carolina. He graduated from the University of South Carolina, and in 1986 cofounded the band Hootie & the Blowfish, named after two of his college classmates. They played the college circuit for several years and toured full-time, breaking into the mainstream in 1994. Rucker continues his relationship with the band. His new album was released in 2013.

Lionel Brockman Richie Jr. (1949–), singer, songwriter, and pianist, crossed over into country music in 2012. He is known also as a singer of soul, R&B, and pop rock. The Tuskegee, Alabama, native grew up on the campus of Tuskegee Institute (later University). While a freshman at the school, Richie formed the Mighty Mystics who, along with members of the Jays, became the Commodores. The group combined gospel, classical, and country-western music and emerged as a formidable live act throughout the 1960s and 1970s. They signed with Motown and had their first hit in 1974 with the song “Machine Gun.” In 1981 Richie recorded the hit theme song for Franco Zeffirelli’s film Endless Love. In 1982 he released his first album, Lionel Richie, which featured the hits “Truly,” “You Are,” and “My Love.” His follow-up album in 1983, Can’t Slow Down, produced more hits, including “All Night Long” and “Stuck On You.” He collaborated with Michael Jackson in 1985 and co-wrote “We Are the World.” In 1985 he received an Oscar nomination for his composition “Say You, Say Me.” Richie was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994. His music has reached across generations and allowed new listeners to enjoy the smooth sound of this five-time Grammy winner, Oscar winner for best song, Golden Globe winner, and winner of numerous American Music Awards. His album Tuskegee, released in March 2012, contains thirteen of his hit singles and features such country singers as Shania Twain, Rascal Flatts, Blake Shelton, Willie Nelson, Darius Rucker, and others. It also represents his cross-over into the country music genre and has become another of his number-one albums.


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