As politics has seeped into nearly every part of the entertainment industry over the last year, country music has been notably quiet on the subject.
Nashville’s stars, part of the most conservative-leaning musical genre, have had little to say about President Trump and the polarizing Republican administration, or current events. Performers such as Toby Keith sang at inauguration but insisted it was about patriotism, not party lines. Singer Dylan Scott summed up a common point of view in an interview earlier this year: “Everyone’s got an opinion. And as soon as you give your opinion, somebody’s going to hate your opinion and not buy your music.”
Since the election, a few country singers openly supported Trump, and a handful made it clear they weren’t fans; far more have just stayed silent. That is, until the horror in Charlottesville last weekend during a white supremacy rally, which immediately became a political flash point as Trump initially condemned the hatred and violence “on many sides,” earning massive backlash. For lots of country artists, Charlottesville was the tipping point to speak out — even if they didn’t specifically reference politics.
“Incredible words from Heather Heyer’s mother Susan Bro.. If you missed it look for it,” Blake Shelton, star of NBC’s “The Voice,” tweeted Wednesday to his nearly 20 million followers, after the memorial service for the 32-year-old killed after a car plowed into people protesting the white supremacist rally. “What a strong and inspiring person.”
The first comment under Shelton’s tweet: “Glad to see somebody in the country industry finally say something, anything about what’s happened/is happening.”
It’s a frequent sentiment from fans surprised to hear from some of the genre’s most famous names. Shelton isn’t the only hitmaker to vocalize his thoughts about Charlottesville, as superstar Tim McGraw started tweeting about it on Saturday. “This cannot stand,” he wrote. “These days surely MUST be behind us.” When a Virginia country radio station aired a special version of McGraw’s hit “Humble and Kind,” he tweeted the clip, adding that it aired during a “violent white supremacist attack on freedom.”
Faith Hill, his wife and fellow country star, quoted her husband’s tweet and added, “WE MUST STOP THIS HATE. It is our responsibility to leave this world a better place period. Stand for what is right. Equality for all.”
After Trump’s combative news conference, where he doubled down on his “many sides” remarks and said there were some “very fine people” in the group that had neo-Nazis, McGraw posted a photo of Abraham Lincoln with a quote: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” While he didn’t name names, the meaning was clear. “I feel like you’ll get hate for this, but thank you,” one person tweeted in response.
This winter, Billboard wrote that country stars were staying away from anything remotely political for fear of getting “Dixie Chicked,” or blacklisted from the industry after voicing an unpopular opinion. However, McGraw is an established star who can do what he wants — in 2015, when he turned a Connecticut tour stop into a Sandy Hook charity benefit, his opener dropped out and McGraw earned the ire of gun rights advocates. He didn’t really seem to care.
Throughout the week on Twitter, music journalist Marissa Moss has been keeping track of Nashville singers who spoke out about Charlottesville, such as Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Sturgill Simpson, Jennifer Nettles, Steve Moakler, Margo Price, Will Hoge, Kelleigh Bannen, Ryan Hurd and many more. Among the names were new mainstream stars, though they tend to already be more vocal than some of their peers.
Brothers Osborne, the Maryland duo who deemed Trump “crazy” after the election, tweeted, “Considering vast numbers of our ancestors died fighting Nazis in World War II, wearing Nazi regalia is the most un-American thing you could do.” Kip Moore wrote a long Instagram post about growing up in Southern Georgia. “I’m 100% aware of what racism looks like, sounds like, and what it feels like (when you hear it out of another’s mouth),” he wrote. “I was lucky to have parents that never instilled that toxic hatred in my bloodline.”
“Bawling watching this,” wrote Kacey Musgraves last Saturday, tweeting video footage of the car running into protesters. “It’s so excruciating to see such evil abandon for the human kind.” On Thursday, amid Trump’s tweets about taking down Confederate statues, she wrote, “Lets swap confederate statues in USA w/ statues of MLK, Harriet Tubman, Anne Frank, Native Americans + others who have fought for freedom.”
“Extremely sad at the seething hatred that still lives here,” Maren Morris tweeted. “I just don’t know what to say anymore. We’re better than this.”
As more country singers weighed in, the biggest name of all got pulled into the mix, after one of the self-described neo-Nazis in Charlottesville was spotted wearing a Johnny Cash T-shirt. His daughter, Roseanne Cash, posted a lengthy message on Facebook signed by all of her siblings.
“We were sickened by the association. Johnny Cash was a man whose heart beat with the rhythm of love and social justice,” the message stated. “We ask that the Cash name be kept far away from destructive and hateful ideology.”