Country music stars distance themselves from NRA after school massacre


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New York (AFP) – Country music has long been closely tied to the US pro-gun lobby, but several stars have distanced themselves from the National Rife Association following the mass shooting at a Texas school.

At least five country musicians, including “God Bless the USA” singer Lee Greenwood, have pulled out of the NRA’s annual convention which opened Friday in Texas. “American Pie” singer-songwriter Don McLean has also retired.

Their initial billing highlights the close ties between country music and gun rights in the United States, but experts say their removal is indicative of a change in attitude.

McLean, 76, said it would be ‘disrespectful and hurtful’ to perform at the convention’s ‘Grand Ole Night of Freedom’ concert scheduled for Saturday after 19 students and two teachers were killed at an elementary school in the small town of Uvalde.

Greenwood, whose signature patriotic song resonates regularly at Donald Trump rallies, said he canceled “out of respect” for mourners, while Larry Gatlin said he could not perform “in good awareness”.

T. Graham Brown and country band Restless Heart lead singer Larry Stewart have also pulled out, according to statements carried by USA Today.

“Not Monolithic”

Conjuring up images of stetson hats, cowboy boots and the Stars and Stripes flag, country has traditionally been the favorite music of conservative white Americans.

Cross in memory of the victims of the Uvalde school shooting seen on May 26, 2022 CHANDAN KHANNAAFP

Its fanbase is overwhelmingly white, with roots in the largely Republican southern states of the United States.

“Country music is by no means monolithic,” Professor Mark Brewer, who teaches music and American politics at the University of Maine, told AFP.

“But I think it’s safe to say that the prevalent themes over the years have been more conservative, perhaps with a hint of libertarian populism mixed in.”

Brewer says there are “longstanding ties” between country music, conservative politics and gun culture. One reason is geography.

“There is a great regional overlap. Country music has its origins in the southern United States and South American politics has always been conservative.

“The United States as a whole has a fairly widespread gun culture, but it’s even more pronounced in the South,” he added.

Professor Joel Schwindt, who teaches country music history at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, said the genre was “very specifically marketed” for white America from the start.

Adding to its appeal among white working-class groups was “strong support for the military”.

– Filming in Las Vegas 2017 –

Unlike Hollywood and the American pop music industry, which leans to the left, country music has many conservative artists.

Musicians who pulled out of the NRA convention were careful not to criticize the gun body in their statements.

A t-shirt on sale at the NRA convention in Houston in 2013
A t-shirt on sale at the NRA convention in Houston in 2013 JUSTIN SULLIVAN Getty/AFP/File

Stewart hailed it as a “great organization” as he championed the US Constitution’s famous Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Many country musicians, however, have called for more gun regulations, including Eric Church, Jason Isbell, Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves.

Several have spoken out after a man opened fire from his hotel at a country music festival in Las Vegas in 2017, killing 60 people in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history .

Rosanne Cash, singer-songwriter and daughter of the late country musician Johnny Cash, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times later that year calling on country musicians to stand up to the NRA.

“I think we’ve had more truly progressive stances in the last decade than we probably ever had before,” including on LGBTQ issues, Brewer said.

Although there are no conclusive studies, he thinks this could be because younger artists tend to be more progressive, as are the fans they are trying to attract.

Protesters demonstrate outside the National Rifle Association annual meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas on May 27, 2022
Protesters demonstrate outside the National Rifle Association annual meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas on May 27, 2022 Cécile ClocheretAFP

Schwindt notes that while country music’s fan base is predominantly white, “regular listening among non-white listeners, black listeners, and Hispanic listeners in particular, has increased quite significantly over the past 10 to 20 years. years”.

Could this lead to more country stars taking progressive stances in the future?

“It’s something we’re seeing more and more,” Brewer said. “I don’t know if I would say it’s still the dominant position. But it’s becoming more and more visible,” he added.


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