Jimmie Allen Says Country Music Isn’t Racist

Jimmie Allen leaves no room for interpretation when he says country music isn’t racist. His Grammy nomination in the Best New Artist category proves it, he insists.

Talk to Evan Paul on Taste of country nights, the “Freedom Was a Highway” singer was asked how he learned about his Grammy nomination. The 2022 Grammy nominations took place last November, just as Allen was preparing to rehearse for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. His publicist woke him up to share the news. You can hear the full exchange starting around 8:55 a.m.:

“And then when she told me the category, it’s best new artist,” Allen recalled. “And that’s all genre, and I’m the only country artist in that genre.”

Saweetie, Olivia Rodrigo, Arlo Parks and Finneas are four others of the 10 total nominees in the category. The Grammys will air live on CBS on April 3.

It’s not uncommon for a country artist to be included in this category – Ingrid Andress (2021), Luke Combs (2019), Margo Price (2019) and Maren Morris (2017) have all been nominated in recent years. Zac Brown Band was the last country band to to earn the New Artist Grammy in 2010.

“What my buddy said is actually a big deal,” Allen says. “He said, ‘Jimmie, think about it. You’re a black guy who’s nominated for a Grammy, because of the success you’ve had in country music… Your story there kills the narrative – the false narrative – that people have that country music is racist.'”

“It’s not,” he says evenly, “Because if it were true, I wouldn’t have my career. I wouldn’t have my Grammy nomination. My Grammy nomination it’s not from hip-hop, is it? it’s not from R&B, it’s not from rock – it’s from my success in country music because country radio, the country family got me supported. And just that, right there, can motivate so many people and bring so many people together and start to see that there’s more love than hate out there.”

Allen has never been shy about speaking out about race issues in country music and has in the past acknowledged issues within the genre. In 2018 he spoke to the Guardian about diversity in country music, noting that historically, “country music came from black people – it all started with blues and bluegrass.”

He also noted that he thinks black artists began to move away from country music in the second half of the 20th century, with Motown music becoming the focus of many black musicians, although Charley Pride and Ray Charles – both black men – have found success in the country.

“In country music, we’re always late,” Allen told the publication at the time. “Outside of country music, it wouldn’t be new for anyone to be a black pop artist or a white rapper, but that genre is different.”

In 2018, Allen had just scored his first national No. 1 hit with “Best Shot.” He followed that up with another titled “Make Me Want To”, then released “This Is Us” featuring Noah Cyrus, a song that failed to make the Top 40. “Freedom Was a Highway” – a duet with Brad Paisley – is at No. 3 on Mediabase’s country airplay chart this week. The song appears on Allen’s extended version betty james EP, released in 2021.

None of those wins came quickly for Allen, an entertainer who — after moving to Nashville in 2007 — spent a decade chasing his luck, as many do. “At first things were not going my way,” he told the Guardian. “I was something new – no one was going to take a chance on a black artist from Delaware.”

In 2022, when talking about tough topics like race in country music, Allen stays positive and preaches love. This has never been more evident than in the months since Morgan Wallen was captured using the N-word on camera. The industry effectively banned Wallen for several months, but Allen told Bobby Bones that he spoke to Wallen daily, offering support and empathy, but not condoning his actions.

More recently, Allen came forward to support Mickey Guyton, who on Jan. 8 went public with a message she received from someone upset that she was pursuing country music as a vocal black woman.

“All you talk about is your fucking race and skin color,” the person said in part.

Attachment – Mickey Guyton IG


“Oh you know…just another Saturday for us,” Allen commented. “That fact that he took time out of his day to write this while having a video game with his profile picture on…that’s a joke. Love sis.”

This idea that a band (in this case, country music as a genre) may not be racist but harbor racists is central to the conversation about race in country music. The format has been good for Allen, but it’s a unicorn, which he readily admits. In March 2021, SongData published a study titled “Redlining in Country Music: Representation in the Country Music Industry (2000-2020)” which comes to clear conclusions: Black, Native, or People of Color (BIPOC) represent less 4% of the country’s commercial industry. This group receives 2.3% of the broadcast, with 96% of that slice going to men. Only 2.3% of ACM Awards nominees and 1.6% of CMA Awards nominees are people of color (data cited in the tennessian).

Allen won New Artist of the Year awards at the ACM Awards and CMA Awards. It’s unclear if he will appear or perform at the 2022 Grammy Awards this spring. On Monday, Feb. 7, he was announced to co-host the 2022 ACM Awards alongside Gabby Barrett and Dolly Parton.

During the full Taste of country nights, on request interview, Allen also talks about the new music he’s been working on, as well as the many TV productions he’s been a part of.

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