Naomi Judd – former half of the superstar country music duo, the Judds, complained in an open letter to the Tennessean about the supposed lack of disrespect given to the recently departed country legend, George Jones. Part of her complaint was that Jones’ tribute seemed lackluster or half-hearted, but also that the Mavericks were called to perform the tribute to the late country icon. Never mind that the Mavericks could be considered country music (or alt-country), Judd groused that “Every year, CMT includes artists of unrelated genres, many of whom some country music fans don’t even know. I suggest the CMT Awards show change its name. Perhaps to ‘the Multi-Genre Awards Show, Featuring Artists under 30′.”
Of country fans, the former singer maintained “True country music fans are a loyal bunch and are passionate about our roots and heritage.”
I won’t address the issue of Jones’ tribute not being ‘enough’ – because she may have a point. And as a personal friend of Jones, Judd would be more sensitive to the topic.
But my issue comes with her complaint of ‘multi-genre’ artists and “true” country music fans.
I’m a country music fan – I’m not-so passionate about my roots and heritage – but to be honest, my roots and heritage are vastly different from Judd’s – as I imagine a lot of country music fans are; and while Judd’s missive is too short for too much examination, it does seem that when it comes to country music, Naomi Judd looks at the genre like Sarah Palin looks at this country – there are true country music fans, and untrue country music fans – and there are some definite strict rules, apparently, because a band like the Mavericks just doesn’t cut it.
Country music – like all forms of popular music – has been influenced by many different genres – soul, gospel, rock, folk, etc – modern country singers like Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Garth Brooks, and Judd’s daughter, Wynonna, have all released albums that run a gamut of musical styles – none strictly adhering to rootsy country music; in fact, some of the Judds’ biggest hits were country-pop songs that owed as much to Los Angeles as they did to Nashville.
And speaking of the 2013 CMT Awards, who on that particular broadcast wasn’t a country singer? Lenny Kravitz, a rock singer, came on to sing a cover of “American Woman,” but did so with country singer Jason Aldean. Rapper Nelly was on that night, but like Kravitz, he was paired with country duo Florida Georgia Line. The only other performer I could think of that may not be country is former Hootie & the Blowfish lead singer Darius Rucker – who by the way, has recently remade himself as a country-pop. Oh, and Judd took offense at having the Mavericks perform – because she found the band to be not “country enough” to pay tribute to George Jones.
I’m not sure what Judd is complaining about – in fact, if she’s interested in broadening the genre’s appeal, then it’s really smart for the producers of the award shows to bring on other artists to perform with country singers – especially if it’s Darius Rucker, Nelly, and Lenny Kravitz. Because let’s face it – country music and country music fans don’t have the best reputation when it comes to people of color – Rucker recently had to swat off a racist Tweet about his country music creds because the singer’s black. And think about it – aside from Charley Pride and (sometimes) Ray Charles, can you think of another black country star? I’m still trying…Having Kravitz and Nelly perform on the show, gives a message to the viewers and the press that country music can be just as diverse and multi-cultural as other forms popular music – this is especially necessary when you have someone like Larry the Cable Guy on your show. Having black performers on a show like the CMT Awards is a great way to counter some unfair perceptions.
And aside from coming off as a fuddy duddy, Judd is also just plain wrong about the sanctity of country music – Dolly Parton, arguably the greatest female country star was famous for hop-scotching through different styles of music throughout her storied career – country, pop, gospel, rock, bluegrass, folk, dance, disco; Rosanne Cash and Emmylou Harris both produced some of their most interesting and heart-stopping music when they looked to expand their sounds by incorporated untraditional instruments and production on their records; even Tammy Wynette, the patron saint of country music scored a huge hit in the mid 80s with the house outfit, KLF.
Country music isn’t some sort of moldy, mummified institution – but a living, breathing entity, that grows – picking up influences as it moves along the way – synthesizers, drum machines, electric guitars all get pulled in as country music continues to grow.
Instead of bemoaning the inclusion of rock stars like Kravitz and rappers like Nelly, Judd should embrace and celebrate the growing diversity among true country music fans and the genre’s performers.