Grammy Award-winning songwriter (and popular social media personality) Jason Isbell shared his disappointment with legendary musical institution the Grand Ole Opry on Sunday (January 9) after the venue brought in country star Morgan Wallen as a guest performer for a show the night prior.
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Together, Wallen and Earnest have the song “Flower Shops” out now that’s charting well.
On Sunday, Isbell posted on Twitter to his nearly half a million followers, “Last night @opry you had a choice- either upset one guy and his ‘team,’ or break the hearts of a legion of aspiring Black country artists. You chose wrong and I’m real sad for a lot of my friends today. Not surprised though. Just sad.”
And new Grammy nominee (and American Songwriter fave) Allison Russell replied to Isbell’s sentiments, echoing them by saying, “It’s deeply disappointing given that MW has yet to make good on any of the reparations he claimed he would be undertaking.”
Others in the comments are pointing out a past tweet from the Grand Ole Opry decrying racism from 2020, a time when most organizations, individuals, and institutions were doing so in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police.
At the time, the Opry wrote, “Racism is real. It is unacceptable. And it has no place at The Grand Ole Opry.”
Over the past few years, Isbell has been very vocal about the existence of racism and other forms of segregation that seemingly masquerade as “tradition” in the south and in country and southern music.
“Nostalgia requires a lack of examination,” he has said.
As Buzzfeed has pointed out, Isbell works to center people of color at his shows; he has decried Wallen in the past calling his behavior “disgusting and horrifying” and has collaborated with the outspoken and stunningly talented artist, Adia Victoria.
Following up his statement about the Opry and Wallen, Isbell tweeted in response to some critics and supporters. In one, he wrote, “The thing that really upsets me is bigger than one person’s words. It’s the idea of a young Black artist walking into that venue and wondering if ANYBODY is on their side. What a lot of us consider to be a grand ole honor can be terrifying for some. Doesn’t have to be that way.”
He added, responding to a Twitter user Bernie Nelson (whose tweet has been deleted), “Bernie if you’re a country songwriter you should know race entered into it when Lesley Riddle wasn’t able to earn a living making music, if not long before.”
And later, Russell tweeted to her followers, “the rot of bigotry permeating mainstream country is rough. But take [heart] as #bellhooks said ‘Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power-not because they don’t see it, but because they see it & they don’t want it to exist.’ #allamericana“
Here’s to hoping this gets worked out, that people ultimately feel safe, valued and that promises made are kept and followed through.
Photo credit: Alysse Gafkjen / Sacks & Co