Marcus K. Dowling
Over its 97-year history, there is a fair argument to be made that there could be no better place to understand America’s complicated history with Black people than the Grand Ole Opry.
Country music’s citadel crystallizes how far removed America has — or has not — grown past the twin impacts of antebellum stereotypes and the Nixon-era “Southern Strategy’s” grip on its past, present and future.
From Charley Pride to vocal trio Chapel Hart, from DeFord Bailey to bluesman Jontavious Willis, the Opry has highlighted a century of Black excellence. But the institution has also highlighted political leaders and artists often associated with racist ideologies, tempering greatness with antagonism.
The road ahead for the Opry is potentially better than the road it has traveled. History without awareness can repeat itself. It is vital to consider how the Opry as a stage presentation has occupied a flawed yet fighting stance for how country music best represents racial equity.