Feb 15, 2024 - News

Houston's country radio stations embrace Beyoncé

Beyoncé leaves the Luar fashion show wearing a white cowboy hat

Beyoncé at New York Fashion Week on Feb. 13. Photo: James Devaney/GC Images

Houston's country stations are embracing Beyoncé's twangy renaissance.

Why it matters: Queen Bey's new music, along with an Oklahoma country station's decision to not give it airtime, has revived an ongoing debate about diversity and inclusion in country music, where white artists dominate the airwaves.

Catch up fast: Houston-born Beyoncé last weekend released two singles — "Texas Hold 'Em" and "16 Carriages" — to tease her upcoming all-country album, "Act II," a notable departure from her regular pop, hip-hop and R&B style.

  • "Texas Hold 'Em" starts with a charging banjo riff courtesy of celebrated folk musician Rhiannon Giddens, while "16 Carriages" enlists the help of steel guitar extraordinaire Justin Schipper, Axios Nashville's Adam Tamburin reports.

Driving the news: Houston's country stations 93Q and 100.3 The Bull will both play Beyoncé's new singles.

  • The Bull's music director and DJ Nick Russo debuted "16 Carriages" on his show Tuesday evening, and 93Q program manager Travis Moon confirmed to Axios that he added the singles to his station's rotation.

What they're saying: "To me it was not that difficult to think about," Moon said. "When I heard it, I was like, 'Holy crap.' I can't say it sounds like anything we're playing."

State of play: Rhodes College professor Charles Hughes told the New York Times that the initial decision by Ada, Oklahoma, country radio station KYKC not to play Beyoncé was emblematic of how "country radio has systematically excluded artists of color."

  • After a listener requested one of Beyoncé's new songs, the station manager replied in an email, "We do not play Beyoncé at KYKC as we are a country music station," according to the New York Times.

Flashback: Rapper Lil Nas X's megahit "Old Town Road" was removed from Billboard's country charts in 2019 because it wasn't deemed country enough.

  • In 2016, Beyoncé's rollicking "Daddy Lessons" was rejected by the country committee at the Grammys.

The big picture: Artists like Giddens, who played banjo on "Texas Hold 'Em," have worked for years to spotlight the ways Black artists have shaped the sound of country music. And groups like The Black Opry have celebrated ascending Black artists.

  • But despite their work, and industry initiatives, mainstream radio success remains elusive for many Black country artists, particularly Black women.

The other side: The Oklahoma station that didn't initially give Beyoncé airtime eventually started playing the songs.

  • General manager Roger Harris told CBS News the station's initial refusal was a mix-up.
  • "We have nothing against Beyoncé," Harris said. "We wish her the best in her foray into country music."

The intrigue: It's not surprising that Queen Bey's hometown is embracing her new direction in music.

  • Beyoncé was born in Houston and raised in Riverside Terrace, a Third Ward neighborhood southeast of downtown.
  • She and her family are also heavily involved in various charity organizations in Houston, including the Knowles-Rowland House, a housing complex for homeless individuals expected to open this year.

"For us, it's a no-brainer," Russo told Axios.

  • He pointed to fans' speculation that "16 Carriages" is about Beyoncé's life as a teenage singer when she lived in Houston, adding it felt "monumental" to put the song on the airwaves over the Bayou City.
  • "Country music right now is all built on genuine authenticity," Russo said. "If that [song] was an authentic representation of Beyoncé's self at that age, I think that's really powerful."

💭 Jay's thought bubble: At its best, the song's inclusion on country radio could help highlight country music's exclusion of Black voices — which helped shape the genre.

Go deeper: Check out Complex's look at Beyoncé's relationship with country music.

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