Luke Combs and Maren Morris are coming together in a brave new effort to help change the future of country music for the better.
On Wednesday, (Feb. 17), the two country stars spoke out about the lack of diversity and their wishes to reconcile issues of racism in the country genre during a lengthy joint discussion, as part of Country Radio Seminar 2021: The Virtual Experience.
Pointing out the untapped potential that exists to broaden the number of artists in country music, Morris told NPR journalist-moderator Ann Powers and other media, “There’s an influx of Black talent, and it’s only going to make our genre, our songs, what we consider catchy, better. We kind of have to start at home — Black songwriters in the room making hit songs with us, feeling comfortable and welcome to do so, will change the sound of country radio for the better.”
“Imagine over the last 50 years, the songs that we haven’t gotten to hear because we shut the door in a Black person’s face,” she added, according to The Tennessean. “(It) could have been the song of the year. We’ll never know. We’ve got to change that going forward.”
Combs not only echoed Morris’ sentiments but also reminded others that country music, at its core, has always been about “family.” And he believes it should be “a family that everyone can feel like they’re a part of.”
“I think we just wanted everyone to know that we’re here and that we want to be stewards of our genre because we are proud of it. And you do hear the old adage of ‘country music is a family.’ And I believe that more than anything,” Combs said. “But I want it to be a family that everyone can feel like they’re a part of. Because it has changed my life; it has changed my band’s lives and my best friends’ lives that I write songs with.”
“I want everyone that wants to feel that to be able to experience it because it’s an incredible feeling. I just want everyone out there to be able to come into our community and be accepted and not feel excluded or pushed out. … I want those people to have the same opportunities that I had to feel that incredible feeling of having their dreams come true in the amazing genre that we have,” he added.
Combs and Morris’ recent Q&A session at CRS 2021 comes just two weeks after country music artist Morgan Wallen was caught on camera using a racial slur. Wallen’s actions prompted an industry-wide response that included revived conversations on topics of racism in the format as well as the removal of Wallen’s music from countless radio stations across the country.
Morris, who has made it a point to be vocal on her social channels when it comes to issues that she feels are important, didn’t hesitate to use her platform to call out Wallen for his actions on Twitter. Combs, on the other hand, has stayed quiet on topics of major social and political issues, until now. However, while in the chat, he was reminded of the recent criticism he faced surrounding the previous use of the Confederate flag.
Fans may recall, the singer recently took heat for his collaboration single with Billy Strings, “The Great Divide,” after photos from 2015 showing him standing in front of a Confederate flag resurfaced on the internet. The photos, which were taken as part of a music video for Ryan Upchurch’s “Can I Get a Outlaw,” also picture Combs using an acoustic guitar with a Confederate flag sticker on it.
Combs apologized for his past use of the Confederate flag, adding that being made accountable for those actions not only helped him to better understand his own star power, but also the deeper and hurtful meanings behind the imagery.
“I’m here to say, ‘I’m trying to learn. I’m trying to get better.’ I know that I’m a very highly visible member of the country music community right now. And I want to use that position for good,” Combs said. “….There is no excuse for those images…. I think as a younger man, that was an image I associated to mean something else, and as I’ve grown in my time as an artist and as the world has changed drastically in the last five to seven years, you know, I’m now aware of how painful that image can be to someone else. … I would never want to be associated with something that brings so much hurt to someone else.”
Combs also expressed his admiration for Morris, acknowledging her courage and decisions to step forward when it comes to fighting certain issues that other people have been faced in country music.
“I’m not diminishing anyone else’s accomplishments. I worked my ass off to get where I am and so did Maren. But like she said, it’s impossible to not say we’ve had it easier than our black counterparts, or I had it easier than Maren and my female counterparts. It’s undeniable,” he said. “For me to sit here and tell you that that’s not true would just be a lie. I could stay silent and say, ‘Well, I’m here, so I’m just not going to say anything, because I don’t want to risk anything.’ I just didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do.”
“Maren has obviously done a fantastic job of sharing her opinions and the things that she believes in and I admire her a lot for that because that’s a big risk in the climate of our genre,” he continued, according to Billboard. “Just saying there are things that need to change and taking a moment to be aware of that and knowing that there are problems that exist is the biggest first step that I have taken. And the biggest first step that anyone out there who may be watching that’s in the industry can take is to say, ‘These things do happen. Let’s not sit here and say that they don’t, because they do.’ I’m here to learn. I feel like I’m kind of at this highly successful moment of my career and I couldn’t just sit back and not do anything.”