daddy lessons

Alison Bonaguro doesn’t think “Daddy Lessons” is a country song, but she can’t prove it

Two days ago, Alison Bonaguro offered up a very interesting take on Beyoncé’s “Daddy Lessons” , the sixth track from her recently released album-movie Lemonade. Bonaguro opens the article for CMT:

“Sorry. I just don’t hear it. Sure, Beyoncé’s new album Lemonade has a song with some yee-haws, a little harmonica and mentions of classic vinyl, rifles and whiskey. But all of the sudden, everyone’s acting like she’s moved to Nashville and announced that she’s country now. Just because of this song “Daddy Lessons.”

At this point in my reading journey, I was slightly taken aback, but prepared myself for an in-depth analysis of what actually defined “country music.” Surely, Bonaguro would have the answers. I was met with much disappointment.

What Bonaguro failed to do was actually adequately define “country music” and point out the missing qualifiers in “Daddy Lessons.” This would have actually made her article worth arguing, let alone reading. Instead, Bonaguro leaves us with this message:

“The song does have a message that might be considered country — almost like Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder & Lead” or “Kerosene” — so that much I get. But that’s it. It doesn’t sound like a country song to me, she didn’t cut it at a studio in Tennessee, and it certainly wasn’t written by a group of Nashville songwriters. Beyoncé wrote this one with Diana “Wynter” Gordon, Kevin Cossum and Alex Delicata.”

Yep. That’s right. Country Music Television dot com published this.

So here’s the thing, it would be very disingenuous for me to suggest that I am a real life country music fan. But one thing my lifelong passion for music has taught me is the importance (and the inevitability) of evolution. Music evolves—it just does. This is true across any given genre, but especially the history of country music.

While I could offer up a very succinct history of American music that concludes with the point that Black people have set the foundation for almost every musical style that we recognize today (and therefore, if Beyoncé as a Black woman were to decide that this song is indeed a country tune, then it is), I won’t.

In 2014, Country Weekly published a really insightful piece about the evolution of country music, decade by decade. You should actually check it out if you get a chance.

What I read in Bonaguro’s piece is an anti-Black woman critique in its laziest form. While many may argue that is big jump to conclusions, considering there are extremely talented Black folk in country music (see Darius Rucker and Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes), I argue back that this is the kind of anti-black racism that draws a line in the sand. This is the kind of anti-Black racism that says, “we don’t mind Black people here, but if they’re gonna be here, we need to define the terms.” Take into account the fact that Beyoncé is now being lauded as “anti-police”, “anti-white” and “man-hating”, and you get yourself a different kind of “Black”, one that many folks won’t tolerate.

If country music has truly been evolving since the 1950’s, why would its evolution have to end in 2016 with Beyoncé? Easy enough: Beyoncé is now being viewed as an ungrateful, political Black woman with a message, and Alison wants her to take that shit somewhere else.

What Bonaguro said: “Sorry. I just don’t hear it. Sure, Beyoncé’s new album Lemonade has a song with some yee-haws, a little harmonica and mentions of classic vinyl, rifles and whiskey. But all of the sudden, everyone’s acting like she’s moved to Nashville and announced that she’s country now. Just because of this song “Daddy Lessons.”

What I read: “I don’t really know how to define country music, but that doesn’t matter. What I won’t tolerate is this new generation of politically correct journalists attempting to take country music away from us good whites.”

What Bonaguro said: “It doesn’t sound like a country song to me, she didn’t cut it at a studio in Tennessee, and it certainly wasn’t written by a group of Nashville songwriters.”

What I read: “Again, I repeat- I have no idea how to define the musical genre that I love but I am willing to make the silly suggestion that since this record was recorded in Nashville, it isn’t country. No! I do not care that Beyoncé is actually from Texas. This is not the point. Hear my pain! Country music is ours! She can’t have it!

Plainly and simply put, if there is an argument to be made against “Daddy Lessons” as a country hit, I challenge the best and brightest of country music journalists to eloquently make the case.

While I understand that Lemonade has been a painful experience for many a part of White America, I urge that if you’re going to be racist, you should at least keep it sophisticated and interesting, kind of like your predecessors. This week we have seen a number of impressive Lemonade reviews and analyses, mostly written by Black women. Want to go toe to toe? Gotta come harder.

What I am interested in is a clear definition of what defines country music, accounting for its past and continued evolution. This critique should center the elements of country music and acknowledge the very Black roots of the genre. In the end, it should clearly point out what disqualifies “Daddy Lessons” from country music status. This is a challenge. Until then..





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