History of Black Country Music Association told as part of new Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit

Frankie Staton
Posted at 8:00 PM, Mar 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-09 21:27:02-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A woman worked tirelessly for years in the hopes of changing country music in a meaningful way. Today, she's finally seeing major recognition.

Playing the piano keys at the Old Hickory Steak House at Gaylord Opryland, there were moments for Frankie Staton where you could see her just swept up by the music. Years ago, when she first started playing around Nashville, she was struck by how people didn't think she, a Black artist, could be so well-versed in country music.

"Some people never expect me to play Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Hank Sr.," Frankie said. "There's no way I would know an Alabama song. They give me a thumbs up. 'Hey, hey. We like that music.' I'm like, 'I like it too.' Had there been more of a diverse presence in country, I wouldn't seem like such an anomaly."

Frankie found herself on a mission. In 1997, she became the force behind the Black Country Music Association. Her members started performing in showcases at places like the Bluebird Cafe. She carefully recorded it all onto stacks on VHS tapes.

"'A Black country music showcase at the Bluebird? You're kidding me!' I said, 'No, I'm not kidding you,'" Frankie said of the reactions to the shows. "The powers-that-be said Black people don't like country music, and they can't sing it. I was like, 'really?' I said I'm going to challenge the story. For them to say Black people don't like country music, that'd be like saying white people don't like rhythm and blues."

After years of hard work, those performances captured on tape didn't lead to Frankie bringing more Black stars to country. She ended the association and thought for decades her work was forgotten.

"I had definitely given it everything I could give it," Frankie said.

That's not where this story ends.

Now at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Frankie is getting her flowers.

She visited the museum with former Black County Music Association artist Valierie Hawkins to see a new display.

"Up here is one of our signs from the country music showcase," Frankie said, pointing behind the glass.

"We had hats, of course," Valierie smiled.

The Black Country Music Association and current Black Opry revue are displays in the just-opened American Currents: State of the Music exhibition.

"It's the latter rain of what happened before what's come to fruition now, and I believe there's more to come," Valierie said.

Frankie's also just performed at the Grand Ole Opry and is proud of all the Black artists now playing country. The Rosedale Collective record label is looking to sign country artists of color. It's a new day.

"I'm really excited about things I dreamed about my entire life all of a sudden starting to happen," Frankie said. "I never thought I'd see it. I'm a living witness that dreams do come true. We have always been here trying to get a break in country music. I stand in the gap for those who never got the chance. When you meet me, you meet many."

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