The Black Opry — an influential, fast-growing collective of Black Country artists and supporters — will celebrate its first anniversary April 18 at Nashville’s City Winery.
Presented by CMT, the black-tie affair will be hosted by Black Opry founder Holly G and comedian Joshua Black.
Live shows have been a vital component of the Black Opry’s work to address the lack of diversity and inclusion in country music. Six shows have already been held around the country and there are more than 30 shows confirmed into spring 2023.
Unlike those shows, which are performed as writers rounds, April’s anniversary show will feature acts performing individually. Artists will be announced shortly, but Holly G says to expect familiar faces from revues, as well as artists performing with the Black Opry for the first time.
CMT will present the anniversary party as part of its ongoing commitment to the organization. “[Senior vp of music strategy] Leslie Fram at CMT has supported Black Opry pretty much from the beginning,” Holly G says. “I and many of our artists have regarded CMT as a core connection to how we’ve consumed country music throughout our lives. Leslie and I have been looking for an opportunity to partner together on a project for quite a while and this was the perfect opportunity. We’re very excited to have CMT come on board for this event and believe it validates the work we have been doing over the past year. We’re excited to solidify what we hope will be a lasting relationship with CMT.”
Formed by longtime country fan Holly G after she witnessed the lack of opportunities for Black country artists and as a way for Black country music fans to connect, the Black Opry has rapidly became a vital voice, especially via Twitter. It has been quick to highlight artists of color and also to call out the country music community and some of its practices, including when the Grand Ole Opry welcomed Morgan Wallen on its stage this January after a video of the star using a racist slur emerged in 2021.
“The biggest victory we have accomplished is that we have created a community,” Holly G says. “We’ve forged a chosen family that has empowered us all to lean into our love for this music. The community we’ve found now serves a a foundation for us to accomplish things we never thought possible and gives us the strength to continue creating space within the industry. “
For comedian Black, co-hosting the April 18 event is a meaningful moment in supporting Black country artists. “Growing up Black in Nashville I grew up on hip-hop, R&B, or gospel music. I only heard country music when I would enter into racially hostile atmospheres like a restaurant where I’m the only Black person. Everyone in the restaurant staring at me making me very aware that I’m out of place,” he says. “Or on Broadway, in bars with drunk, Confederate flag-flying tourists that were upset at my presence and existence. Country music became the soundtrack for racism until I went to the CMA [Awards] and heard Mickey Guyton, Breland, and Brittney Spencer. I now understand the range of country and its optimistic progressive future … With this new wave of Black voices taking over the scene, it’s made me a fan as well as a student of country music. Country music is good. Black people are great. You mix the two and you could change the world.”
City Winery and the Black Opry have an informal alliance that has resulted in Black Opry shows in City Winery locations, including Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia, with several more on the schedule.
“It’s important to us to give artists a platform to showcase their unique sound, creativity, and voices. This is especially true when these artists may not have another place to do so,” says City Winery marketing manager Sam Polonsky.
“The Black Opry Revue is just a snapshot of how influential the Black community has been for country music,” she continues. “There is no music history without Black music history, and the Black Opry Revue showcases some of the best and the brightest musicians of color today that will be making history tomorrow. It has been incredible to see the revue growing and we wanted to support and be part of their journey.”
As the Black Opry moves into year two, Holly G says it will move with even greater intention. “I was pleasantly surprised at the way the Black Opry so quickly gained momentum and support. Because I don’t come from a music industry background, the first year was a process of educating myself and finding my footing,” says the flight attendant. “I am going into year two with a much clearer sense of what our future may look like and pathways to achieve those goals. In our second year we hope to solidify the Black Opry as an entity that creates opportunity and lasting change for artists that have for too long been left out.”
Tickets for the celebration go on sale Wednesday (Feb. 16), and prices range from $15 to $30.