Music executives of color help bring country to new audiences

The country music industry has recognized a need for change.
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 10:56 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Part of the systemic change artist Miko Marks wants to see comes from within the executive boardrooms within the top country music labels. So, we sat down with two executives of color to learn more about what’s being done.

When country fans pack arenas, BMI Executive Shannon Sanders says there was something missing.

“I’ve always known Black people that have loved country music. They’ve never been marketed to. They’ve never felt a part of the conversation.” Sanders told us.

A conversation Sanders says has changed following one incident that sent shockwaves across the country and started uncomfortable interactions focused on race. That was the death of George Floyd.

“It made Nashville look at itself in the mirror,” Sanders said. “Quite honestly, Nashville didn’t like everything that it saw.”

Sanders added the industry began recognizing a need to have more diverse voices both on stage and behind the scenes.

“It made this conversation happen at one time, around one topic.” Sanders said. “And I think that that’s where a lot of power and a lot of momentum for this movement came from.”

That momentum includes an increase in artists of color singing on CMA Fest stages, at the Grand Ole Opry and the iconic BlueBird Cafe. BMI partnered with the BlueBird Cafe when it reopened after Covid for a monthly Songwriters-In-The-Round Series.

“With our series, we focused on not only high-level writers but diversifying the stage in the BlueBird, and it’s been tremendously successful,” Sanders added.

Success can also be measured by what’s going on behind the scenes. James Marsh with Warner Music Group says many industry leaders, like the Grand Ole Opry are hosting diversity and inclusion panels to broaden the voices in the rooms.

When asked about the gravity of being in the room while real change to country music is being made, Marsh’s answer was simple.

“If they’re trying then I have to try with them as well,” he said.

Both Marsh and Sanders recognize there’s more to be done. But they’re optimistic about where the industry is headed.

“There shouldn’t be just one African American or a person of color at my level,” Marsh said. “There should be more and then I think that will change the culture.”

Sanders added: “To evolve... I feel like it’s to become a better version of the thing. And that’s how I see this moment. We have evolved to a place where more people see themselves reflected in what it is. So, I couldn’t be prouder of the work we’re doing.”