Recent polls show that country music ranks as one of the most popular music genres in the USA. But since 2000, there has been a drastic decline in the presence of songs by female artists on the format – down to an 10% average of airplay in 2019. Most disconcertingly, this percentage represents airplay almost entirely for white women, as songs by Black women are essentially excluded from the format. Recent studies show that current practices for programming and signing artists continue to enforce racial segregation and gender discrimination that were institutionalised in the industry in the 1920s.
How do BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and white female artists operate within these structures? In “Three Chords and the Truth”, Dr. Jada Watson will lead a panel conversation on representation in country music culture with two Canadian women singer-songwriters. They will discuss their journeys to country music, their songwriting practice, and reflect on the current (and historic) cultures of racial and gender inequity that plague the industry.
Jada Watson, Adjunct Professor in the Schools of Music and Information Studies
Dr. Jada Watson’s research explores the development of genre cultures and communities. Drawing on industry data from radio, labels, and awarding bodies, her most recent work addresses issues of equity, diversity and inclusion in country music culture.
Tami Neilson, Canadian-born, New Zealand-based country and soul singer-songwriter
No one forgets the first time they see Tami Neilson. She can hush a room with an original song that channels the hurting spirit of Patsy Cline or the sensuality of Peggy Lee, or bring the audience to its feet on a rockabilly raver. Tami grew up performing across North America with the Neilson Family Band, with her parents Betty and Ron and brothers Todd (drums) and Jay (bass). She spent years on the road learning her craft. Her early solo records saw her in a self-created territory between mainstream country and alternative country, a couple recorded around the kitchen table back home in Canada with brother Jay, who is now an acclaimed producer and songwriter. This enabled Tami to explore her increasing vocal and emotional range and build a deep well of musical influences to draw upon when she started to write her own material. In 2020, she released her seventh solo album, CHICKABOOM! A collection that brings much personal and family history to the table. About the album, Tami explains that she wanted “to write an album of punchy little songs, popping firecrackers that, when stripped back to nothing but a guitar, percussion and two voices, would still go boom!” The new collection
D’orjay the Singing Shaman, Albertan country singer-songwriter
Country music is often seen as binary—either real or fake; outlaw or Nashville; authentic Americana or industry bro pop. What it’s not seen as is a space for Black voices. D’orjay The Singing Shaman is out to change that. It took a personal transformation for D’orjay to find her true path, one that would eventually lead to country music. Sitting in a jungle in Chile with a group of 25 other Shamans-in-training, she remembers thinking, “I think I want to fucking sing. Like do it. Not just in my bedroom but be a whole ass artist and claim that.” Her debut album New Kind of Outlaw (2020) brings together all her passions as she claims her seat at the table as a Black, queer, Canadian woman, and opens the door to those on the margins looking in. New Kind of Outlaw defies the mainstream by bringing a Black woman’s stories vibrantly to the forefront with a meld of country and roots music influences.