Various panels in recent months have taken 2020's surging Black Lives Matter movement into the trenches of Americana and Country music to define possible futures for inclusion and diversity in the historically white genres. For those seeking even deeper levels of conversation, action and community, an unprecedented four-day virtual music festival kicks off Thursday called the Country Soul Songbook Summit.
“We know that the music and culture we have come to know as Country, Soul, and Americana share history within a multi-racial, multi-identity, American soup,” organizers said in a release. “Our community is coming together to celebrate what we know this music can be: equitable, integrated, truth-telling, and future-minded.”
The instigators and organizers are Durham, NC-based artists and activists Kym Register, Heather Cook and Kamara Thomas, the latter of whom took part in recent panels before and during the Americana Thriving Roots online conference. She conceived the Country Soul Songbook as an in-person gathering in her former home of New York City, where newcomers to country and roots music from all backgrounds could gather and perform canonical songs from the repertoire. Reached on Wednesday, Thomas said she was spurred to expand on the idea after moving to North Carolina by the book Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South by Charles L. Hughes. The award-winning 2015 work documents how commercial forces segregated American popular music in the 1960s and 70s, long after the more widely recognized initial division of “race” and “hillbilly” records in the 1930s.
Hughes will be part of a panel on day one called Imaginary Chasm: The History of “Genre Defined By Race” In The Music Industry. Thomas says one of her goals is to put country and soul back together again, through deeper understanding of source material and music industry habits and biases so ingrained that they’re hard to recognize as exclusionary or distorting. “We're trying to really involve the whole culture,” she said. “And by the whole culture, we mean Black culture, we need we mean Native culture, we mean Queer culture - all of these underrepresented voices that are deeply influencing country and Americana, but have been kind of marginalized and not getting credit for the influence they offer. We're just bringing them all to the center.”
Artists and thinkers set to perform or speak include: Amythyst Kiah, Rissi Palmer, Pura Fé, Leyla McCalla, Rev. Sekou, Lavender Country, Kamara Thomas, Birds of Chicago, Cary Morin, Lilli Lewis, Karen & The Sorrows, Kandia Crazy Horse, Loamlands, Joy Clark, Geronimo Collins, Brian Farrow, Gangstagrass, Luis Rodriguez, J.Rees, Dusky Waters, Taylor Crumpton, Shirlette Ammons, Will Darity, Alice Gerrard, Molly Sarlé, Marcus K. Dowling, Charles L. Hughes, Phil Cook, Blue Cactus, Nana Grizol, and Lee Bains.