Luke Combs and Maren Morris joined together on a virtual conversation about the state of country music at an exclusive session held during CRS 2021: The Virtual Experience.
During the conversation, moderated by NPR Music’s critic and correspondent and the Nashville correspondent for WXPN’s World Café, Ann Powers, Combs and Morris started a call for an industry-wide response, encouraging to build a more accepting culture and diverse genre.
Both Luke and Maren called for unity and more inclusion during the 1-hour discussion.
Luke said, “I think we just wanted everyone to know that we’re here and that we want to be stewards of our genre because we are proud of it. And you do hear the old adage of ‘country music is a family.’ And I believe that more than anything, but I want it to be a family that everyone can feel like they’re a part of. ”
Luke also addressed his past use of Confederate flag imagery in photos and a 2015 music video saying, “As I’ve grown in my time as an artist, and as the world has changed drastically in the last five to seven years, I am now aware how painful that image can be…I would never want to be associated with something that brings so much hurt to someone else.”
He said he was participating in the conversation “not to say, ‘I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.'”
“I’m here to say, ‘I’m trying to learn. I’m trying to get better.’ I know that I’m a very highly visible member of the country music community right now. And I want to use that position for good, and to say that people can change and people do want to change, and I’m one of those people trying.”
He offered up other ways to show off southern pride.
“You can go plant a vegetable garden in your yard of heirloom plants that your family used to grow 200 years ago. That’s something that you can do to be proud of your Southern heritage. You can cook a meal that your grandparents made. Those are the things that I try to do now to say ‘Hey, I am proud of being from North Carolina. I am proud to be a rural guy.’ …You don’t need the flag to be proud to be from the south. It doesn’t have to be a part of that. And I think that that’s something that, unfortunately, we’re still figuring out.”
Both artists talked about having more diversity in country music Luke said, “I’m not diminishing anyone else’s accomplishments. I worked my ass off to get where I am and so did Maren. But like she said, it’s impossible to not say we’ve had it easier than our black counterparts, or I had it easier than Maren and my female counterparts. It’s undeniable. For me to sit here and tell you that that’s not true would just be a lie. I could stay silent and say, ‘Well, I’m here, so I’m just not going to say anything, because I don’t want to risk anything.’ I just didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do.”
Maren made a passionate plea for there to be more people of color accepted into the format, saying, “There’s an influx of Black talent, and it’s only going to make our genre, our songs, what we consider catchy, better. We kind of have to start at home — Black songwriters in the room making hit songs with us, feeling comfortable and welcome to do so, will change the sound of country radio for the better.”
She went on to say, “I remember watching the amazing Ken Burns ‘Country Music’ documentary, and just myself being so ignorant to the roots of what this genre started in — like not knowing that the banjo is a West African instrument, and this is so integral to the sound of country music’s beginnings. Things like that… My relationship with country music, what I’ve always loved about it, is the honest truth of it. And if we want to pride ourselves on being three chords and the truth, we need to be truthful with ourselves, and know who started this genre. It wasn’t just white people. And going forward, making room.”
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