Celebrating America’s Diversity in Country Music

Happy Fourth of July, y’all!

For Independence Day, I wanted to do something other than just listing out all of the best flag-waving, red white and blue, freedom loving country songs. Mainly because that’s already been done and also because that list would be far too long. Instead, I’m choosing to write about the country songs that focus on my favorite things about America like its diversity and acceptance of those differences. 

First up is Dierks Bentley- “Home

Though this song was released in 2011, I think it’s more relevant now in 2017. No, America isn’t perfect, as Dierks sings, “shes’s got her scars.” But trying to make America better and healing those scars should be something that we are constantly working towards. We shouldn’t try to bring America back to the past by making it “great” again but rather we should try to make it greater than it’s ever been. That means moving forwards, not backwards. Because for a lot of people, America wasn’t great to them in the past. Perhaps these are the scars that Dierks references in the beginning of the song. As Dierks repeats in the chorus, “it’s been a long hard ride, got a ways to go, but this is still the place that we all call home.”

“Free, nothing feels like free
Though it sometimes means we don’t get along
Cause same, no we’re not the same
But that’s what makes us strong”

This verse is my favorite because it serves as a reminder of the rich diversity we have in this country. No, we are not all the same, we are many different races, religions, cultures, etc. “But that’s what makes us strong,” as Dierks correctly points out. I think that now, more than ever, we need to stop seeing these differences as barriers that prevent us from coming together and instead to look at them as an expression of what makes America great.

Waylon Jennings- “America

Next on the list is my man Waylon Jennings. Though he may have been an outlaw, this man was still a patriot. “America” is truly a song of acceptance. Though Waylon wasn’t the first to record it, that was the song’s writer Sammy Johns, his version is the one I’m familiar with. In “America,” Waylon sings about his acceptance of all types of Americans. Although he may be from Tennessee (at least for the sake of this song) he sings that the people in California are nice to him. Proving that no matter where you roam in this country, Americans are good people. He also mentions the men who went off to war and “lived through hardship and pain” while also recognizing those who chose not to fight in a war that they did not support- showing his acceptance of people in each of these camps.

“The men who could not fight, In a war that didn’t seem right, You let them come home, America”

This song includes a message of racial acceptance as Waylon refers to those from other races as his brothers. He also acknowledges that America must make good on its promises to the Native Americans. We could use more country songs like this!

“And my brothers are all black and white, yellow too
And the red man is right, to expect a little from you
Promise and then follow through, America”

I also love the way Waylon adds an extra syllable to the word “America,” just like Sammy Johns did. It’s not A-mer-i-ca, it’s A-mer-rer-i-ca.

Aaron Tippin- “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” 


It’s not so much the song as it is the music video that earns this 2002 hit from Aaron Tippin a spot on this list. Although this song was used by Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucuses in 2016, Tippin came out and said, “I’m not endorsing anyone, but I hope that my song will help get folks out there and do their patriotic duty…vote!” Regardless of what Aaron Tippin’s politics may be, this video left such a lasting impression on me that I would regret not including it.

This video was filmed in New York in September 2001 right after 9/11 and includes scenes of the rubble, members of the NYPD and FDNY, and images of cards with messages like “God Bless America” written on them. It also includes close-up shots of American citizens from a wide range of diverse backgrounds, including Hasidic Jews, a Buddhist monk, a Sikh, among others. I remember watching this video as a kid and having my curiosity peaked as these images of diversity flashed across the TV screen. At the time, I lived in a town that had very little diversity- I can say with certainty that I had never seen a Hasidic Jew, a Buddhist monk, or a Sikh before. I’m sure this was the case for a lot of people in rural America at the time. I’d like to think that the message that Aaron had in mind when filming this video was one of inclusion and of putting aside our differences to come together as a nation, especially after September 11th. This was the message that I received at least. This video resonated with my eleven-year-old self so much that I can still remember watching it to this day. I’m also pretty sure that this video is what led me to become interested in world religions- something that would go on to shape the rest of my life.

 

As Aaron Tippin sings in this song, “there’s a lady that stands in a harbor for what we believe.” As you celebrate today, please remember the words of Emma Lazarus from her poem “The New Colossus” that are written on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Currently listening to: Shooter Jennings- “4th of July.” To be honest, this is my all-time favorite 4th of July jam! He’s also Waylon Jennings’ son which is pretty dang cool! I’ll be listening to this all day today…and other days that aren’t July 4th as well!

“You were pretty as can be, sitting in the front seat
Looking at me, telling me you love me
And your happy to be with me on the 4th of July
We sang ‘Stranglehold’ to the stereo
Couldn’t take no more of that rock ‘n’ roll
So we put on a little George Jones and just sang along”

Happy Independence Day, A-mer-rer-i-ca!

Just letting y’all know- I’ll be heading out to Kenya in a couple of days and will be gone for about two weeks. I’ll be sure to post once I’m back stateside.

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How 90s Country Made Me the Woman I am Today

For my first real post on the blog, I wanted to go back to where it all began- the 1990s! I was born in 1990 so 90s country was the soundtrack to the first decade of my life. And growing up in Orange, Virginia, it was the soundtrack to most people around me and their lives too. It wasn’t until I got older and moved away that I realized not everyone had friends in low places, did the Watermelon Crawl, and thought John Deere Green was an acceptable paint color for declaring one’s love on a water tower.

For me, the best part about 90s country were the strong female voices that reigned supreme in this decade. I’m talking Shania, Faith, Reba, Deana, Martina, Trisha, the Dixie Chicks, and many others that I won’t mention for the sake of space. When these women sang, you shut up and paid attention to what they had to say. Shania let us know that any man of ours better walk the line, the Dixie Chicks encouraged us to find wide open spaces, and Reba taught us that there’s life out there beyond our family and our home. As a precocious and head-strong little girl, I looked up to these women and their songs of female empowerment. One of my main gripes with contemporary country is the lack of female voices and it’s one of the topics I hope to explore further with this blog. I owe partial credit (the other part to my mom) to these women for making me the woman I am today. These women taught me about love and never settling for less than you deserve. Deana Carter painted a picture of how sweet first love should be with “Strawberry Wine” and Faith Hill’s line, “I’d trade a million pretty words for one touch that is real” taught me about what’s important in a relationship (from her song, “Take Me As I Am.”) And in case I ever found myself with a man who wasn’t treating me right, Lorrie Morgan gave me the courage to say, “If you think I won’t go, watch me!” The songs that these women sang were anthems for an eight-year-old girl going on eighteen.

To this day, many of these songs still bring to mind a specific memory. Whenever I hear Shania Twain’s “Don’t Be Stupid” I think back to my cousin and I singing this song in our church’s variety show (they were always sure to point out that it wasn’t a talent show because nobody had any talent. Also, why did our parents think this was an acceptable song to sing at church? One of the lines is “when I talk to other guys you think they’re on my tail”? But, I digress.) Another Shania-inspired memory also comes to mind when I think back on my childhood. I can remember asking my dad what PMS was after hearing the line, “this could be worse than PMS” from Shania’s song “Honey, I’m Home.” I think his response was something like, “it’s something that women get” and he probably told me to ask my mom. Gee, thanks! I also remember getting Faith Hill’s album Take Me as I Am on cassette tape in my advent calendar one Christmas and how excited I was to pop this into the stereo and press play. When I hear these songs today, I’m transported back to my childhood- a young girl singing songs with lyrics meant for grown women, not realizing the lessons they were teaching me at the time and how important these messages would be in my own development.

Nineties country also music taught me that sometimes life sucks but that’s no excuse to not get out there and have some fun from time to time. Even when dealing with a broken heart, David Lee Murphy went looking for a “Party Crowd.” Although, on the other hand, Bubba grabbed a .45 and shot the jukebox just from hearing a sad song that made him cry, which brings me to my next point- 90s country had a sense of humor. Just look at Sammy Kershaw’s “Vidalia”- a song about a girl who shares her name with an onion, which seems to be quite fitting as she’s always making Sammy cry. Nineties country taught me humility and that it’s okay (if not absolutely necessary) to laugh at yourself every once in a while.

The 1990s was also a time when Toby Keith sang songs like “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and “How Do You Like Me Now?” You know, before he started singing about putting boots in people’s a**es.

The holidays also have a special place in my memory because of country music. Each Christmas, the album I most look forward to hearing is Alan Jackson’s Honky Tonk Christmas, which was released in 1993. I don’t think there’s been a single December since I was a child when this album wasn’t played. As soon as the holiday season began, my mom would pop this tape into her car and Alan Jackson would sing us through to the New Year. The songs on this album bring out the emotions that we’ve all felt around the holidays at some point in our lives- cheer, loneliness, and financial hardship. My cousin and I always requested that my mom play “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)”, the last song on this album, finding the title and content to be hilarious. Little did we know that for my mom this song served as a painful reminder of the Christmases that she grew up with as a child surrounded by people with alcohol addiction. As an adult, I understand why she did not find the song as funny as my cousin and I did. But don’t let this fool you- this album also features some more happy songs to bring you your yuletide cheer, including a Duet with Alvin and the Chipmunks about Santa coming in a pickup truck. My family has since upgraded from the cassette tape to the CD version of this album ensuring that we have a “Honky Tonk Christmas” year after year.

Country music, especially 90s country, helped raise me and taught me some great life lessons along the way. Lessons like, “Life’s a dance you learn as you go– sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow” and “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” It was the decade that gave us Tracy Lawrence, Lee Ann Womack, Travis Tritt, Tim McGraw, Jo Dee Messina, Mindy McCready, and Collin Raye. These artists and their songs shaped my life. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without country music and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Had I been raised on another genre of music, would I still be the same person? I’m not so sure.

Currently listening to: Sammy Kershaw- “Queen Of My Double Wide Trailer