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.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Nashville.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Nashville stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Nashville.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more