And in this special section, AARP The Magazine also pays tribute to country music. Celebrity country music fans – including Ringo Starr, Lester Holt, Terry Bradshaw and more – tell ATM why they love country music and how it’s shaped who they are today.
In addition, a special report shines a spotlight on the diversifying Nashville music scene. Learn how new artists like Lil Nas X and Brittney Spencer are changing country from within, featuring an exclusive interview with rising star Kane Brown, and an examination of the broadening inclusion.
Plus, a quiz to see how well you know country music; AARP’s playlist of essential country songs; and a travel guide to iconic country music sites across the country, including museums, concert halls, and backroom spots where music history was made.
The following are excerpts from ATM’s June/July 2022 cover story featuring Country Music’s Biggest Stars. The issue is available in homes starting in June and online now here.
Dolly Parton on what makes her proud to be American:
“People. In my mind, that’s all this country really is. We are all in this together— trying, searching for that thing we like to call The American Dream.”
Shania Twain on her first impressions of America:
“Luckily, I was embraced by mentors who would invite me to their house on weekends to be with their family. We’d play guitar and sing. They cooked Southern food. I was welcomed on a personal level, which gave me a good impression of America.”
Loretta Lynn on freedom of speech:
“Record producer Owen Bradley allowed me to write and sing as I believed. Yes, some radio stations were not playing those songs at first – like ‘Wings Upon Your Horns’ and ‘Rated X’—but they became hits anyway. I never intended to be some woman activist, but I guess a lot of people related to it. So that freedom for me was freedom for a few others.”
Zac Brown Band on natural beauty of the U.S.A.:
“There is so much power in putting people in a situation where they have to rely on each other and understand the beauty that is in nature.”
Lester Holt on storytelling in country music:
“An important part of what we do in the news business is stories that people can relate to. Country music also taps into something inside us that will ring familiar about our lives and how we see the world.”
Ringo Starr on his love of country music:
“I love country music because of where I came from in Liverpool. To this day it is known as the “Country Music Capital of England.” A lot of lads in my neighborhood who were in the Merchant Navy would go on the ships to America and bring back country-and-western records and blues records. When I heard Hank Williams, I just loved his presence on the records. He started the ball rolling for me. I’m an emotional person, and there is a lot of emotion in country.”
Changing Nashville: How Lil Nas X influenced the genre:
“Over the years, there have been a few stars of color, but in 2019, the real bomb dropped. ‘I think it’s pretty amazing,’ offers documentarian Ken Burns, ‘that the number 1 country single of all time is by a gay Black cowboy.’ Burns is referencing ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X, a performer who was then so controversial that the initial recording of the song was deemed outside the bounds of the genre and pulled from the country charts. It recharted soon after, when Billy Ray Cyrus collaborated with Lil Nas X on a new version.”
Changing Nashville: Kane Brown on the progress in Nashville diversity:
“There is absolutely room to make more progress, but the truth is this has always been a format with fans that looked and are diverse, but the industry on the other side hasn’t always fully reflected that. I hope that by the time my daughter is a little older, she sees herself when she looks at all areas of entertainment, including country music.”
Changing Nashville on Race and Country music:
“When it comes to race… [there are] three main factors at work today: The industry has discovered that the audience will accept talented artists of color. The cultural effect of George Floyd’s murder prompted a sort of racial reckoning in America. And… there was an erroneous belief that African Americans weren’t interested in making country music.”