Jan 11, 2022 - News

Grand Ole Opry welcomes Morgan Wallen

Morgan Wallen performing in 2020 with a guitar.
Morgan Wallen performing in 2020. Photo: Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for CMA

A barrage of criticism rained down on the Grand Ole Opry after embattled artist Morgan Wallen performed on its hallowed stage Saturday.

  • Wallen sang a duet with ERNEST, who was making his Opry debut. Wallen described his labelmate as "one of my best friends."
  • The performance came less than a year after Wallen was caught on video using the n-word. The ensuing controversy ensnared a genre in the midst of a reckoning over its lack of inclusiveness for minority artists and fans.

Why it matters: The Grand Ole Opry has long served as a bellwether for the genre. Wallen's return to the Opry stage is the latest example of country music institutions embracing the mega-selling star despite his use of the racial slur.

Driving the news: Critique of the Opry has been swift and harsh, including from Black artists who have performed there.

  • Yola called the situation a "dumpster fire" and shared a critical letter from the organization Black Opry, which strives to "continue the conversation about how to evolve the country music industry and create a space that is both safe for and helpful to Black fans and Black artists."
  • In her letter to Grand Ole Opry leadership, Black Opry founder Holly G called it a "slap in the face" to welcome back Wallen one day after celebrating the career of trailblazing Black artist Charley Pride.

What they're saying: "A stage that was once a dream destination for many Black artists has now cemented itself as one of the many Nashville stages on which we know we are not respected," Holly G said in her letter.

  • "You had a choice," singer-songwriter Jason Isbell tweeted. "Either upset one guy and his 'team,' or break the hearts of a legion of aspiring Black country artists. You chose wrong and I'm real sad for a lot of my friends today. Not surprised though. Just sad."

Between the lines: Wallen has remained hugely successful despite the controversy, closing out 2021 with the top album across all genres and preparing for a headlining tour that includes three shows at Bridgestone Arena.

The Grand Ole Opry and Wallen did not respond to requests for comment.

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