Apr 5, 2024 - Business

King family praises Beyoncé for "reaffirming" country album

Martin Luther King III, the son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington. Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards in Los Angeles. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images/Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

Family members of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. are commending Beyoncé for her new country album, "Cowboy Carter," which draws attention to other Black country artists.

The big picture: From members of the Little Rock Nine to Beatles legend Paul McCartney, listeners are lauding Beyoncé's genre-bending project that pays homage to civil rights and Black Americans' legacy in country music.

Zoom in: The 27-song track list released last week includes previously released singles "Texas Hold 'Em" and "16 Carriages," which have already garnered hundreds of millions of plays on Spotify.

  • "Texas Hold 'Em" also reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs, making Beyoncé the first Black woman to top the chart.
  • The album also features a cover of The Beatles' "Blackbird," a song written by Paul McCartney in 1968 about the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Beyoncé invited Black country singers Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts to join her on the cover.

What they're saying: "I'm grateful because she brings all of this to me personally but also in our home. And it's joyous, It's positive. It's reaffirming," Martin Luther King III tells Axios.

  • King said his mother, Coretta Scott King, mainly listened to classical but occasionally put on some country music. His father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., loved all music.
  • "Beyoncé is bringing the conversation to the actual origins of country music in the black community," King III's wife, Arndrea Waters King, tells Axios.
  • She called Beyoncé "courageous" for stepping into the country scene that recently has produced artists accused of promoting gun violence and racism.

State of play: "Cowboy Carter" comes as a growing number of Black country artists have been organizing to get more recognition in an industry that gives them little airtime and attention.

  • They've helped create the Black Opry, an American music website and touring revue.
  • Mickey Guyton became the first Black woman to co-host the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2021 and her song "Black Like Me" garnered attention during the 2020 national racial justice protests.

The intrigue: On Thursday, McCartney posted on Threads that he was happy with Beyoncé's cover of "Blackbird."

  • "I think she does a magnificent version of it, and it reinforces the civil rights message that inspired me to write the song in the first place," he wrote.
  • "I think Beyoncé has done a fab version and would urge anyone who has not heard it yet to check it out."

Yes, but: Beyoncé has faced criticism from some white country music fans for using explicit lyrics in her new album.

Reality check: A number of country music artists, from Wheeler Walker Jr. to Trey Lewis, have sung songs with explicit lyrics.

The bottom line: Beyoncé is earning respect and support from other Black country artists like Julie Williams for highlighting other Black country musicians and bringing attention to Black country history.

Go deeper: Harris hails Beyoncé: "Your music continues to inspire us all"

Go deeper