Chris Molanphy is a columnist for
HIED 'til I Can't No More: A Brief History of Country and Race
Chapter 2 provides a brief history of country music through the prism of America's racial history, providing a backdrop for the boundaries Lil Nas X would later cross with “Old Town Road.” Black music and African / African American culture are at the root of country music, and Black creators were instrumental to the launch of the Grand Ole Opry and the work of such country legends as the Carter Family, Bill Monroe, and Hank Williams. Ray Charles's 1962 crossover from R&B into country was a watershed that broadened country's reach to nonrural audiences but also revealed the music's race-driven boundaries. Other core country elements—such as pedal steel and the Nudie suit—are also revealed as less “authentic” than country gatekeepers would purport.