Resurrection, our way: On Beyoncé, Linda Martell and staging our own renaissance

As "Cowboy Carter" brings country music's Black roots to the fore, Beyoncé reminds us of the infinite power of legacy.

Beyoncé, Cowboy Carter, Black country music, Black country artists, Daddy Lessons, Linda Martell, Christianity, Faith and Spirituality, Religion,
Beyoncé supports Jay-Z as he accepts the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award during the 66th GRAMMY Awards at Arena on February 04, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Have you ever had an experience when you were invited to a space, only to discover you were clearly not wanted?

Lord knows I have been, more times than I could anticipate or count. Each time, the indignity doesn’t lessen; but I increasingly learn how to emerge from those moments unscathed, stronger, and brighter, in hopes of leaving those places better than when I arrived.

Well, continuing her era of turning lemons into lemonade, Beyoncé’s new album, “Cowboy Carter,” seeks to demonstrate how she’s processed similar experiences. According to Beyoncé, her new album “was born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed … and it was very clear that I wasn’t.” Many have presumed the experience in question was the very public moment she was invited to perform “Daddy Lessons” at the 2016 Country Music Association Awards (CMAs) — a moment during which she chose former industry darlings The Dixie Chicks (now simply known as “The Chicks”) to join her onstage — only to find she was an unwanted presence. 

“Some were outraged that Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks, who have been estranged from the country music community, were allowed to perform at the 2016 CMA Awards,” Gerren Keith Gaynor reported for theGrio at the time. Subsequently, angry country music fans forced the CMA to remove all traces of Beyoncé from its online recaps in an astonishing gesture that amounted to erasure. While some speculated that political differences between Beyoncé, The Dixie Chicks and the core CMA fan base led to the removal of her performance from their platform, such an effacement of dissenting voices remains unprecedented in the entertainment industry. As a further insult, despite her erasure on its website and social media, the CMAs still promoted a free download of the performance, in truly exploitative fashion.

Instead of focusing on the anti-Black commentary and reception Beyoncé experienced in purist country music circles, the Texas native staked her own claim to the genre and reinstalled our pioneers, holding space for them to speak and sing for themselves. She joins a growing procession of Black artists who have seized upon both the moment and the true legacy of the genre to reclaim space in the country music industry.

As she in several tributes on “Renaissance, Act I,” in “Cowboy Carter,” Beyoncé honors a pioneer in the country music realm, designating an interlude in her album as “The Linda Martell Show.” As Martell herself questions the meaning or significance of “genres,” Beyoncé pays homage to other Black foreparents in country music, surrounding her listeners in sonic majesty that recalls the tradition of restorative justice and liberation theology found in Hebrews 12:1-2

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

It is not by chance Beyoncé pays homage to Linda Martell, the first Black woman to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in 1969. Encapsulating the essence of overcoming adversity and emerging with one’s legacy enshrined for future generations, Martell significantly impacted the genre with her album “Color Me Country” in 1970, marking a historic moment as the first major release by a Black female artist in country music.

With the highly anticipated release of “Cowboy Carter,” the newfound attention directed toward Martell’s contributions, including a documentary and awards, highlights an overdue shift toward inclusivity and acknowledgment of diverse narratives and legacies in country music.

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Acknowledgment of Martell not only celebrates her contributions but also symbolizes a resurrection of her story, echoing the profound Easter message of rebirth and triumph over tribulation. We are reminded that there is always someone who prepared the way for us to do what we do, great or small. We must say their names as if in meditation, recognizing them as a prayer of thanksgiving that the work continues.

As I think about Resurrection Sunday as both a theologian and musicologist, given my cultural upbringing, personal experiences, and academic and spiritual training, the themes of empowerment and renewal are central to this commemoration by Christian believers. Within African-American culture, even if we may not believe or observe Christian practices, at the foundation of what we have endured as a people — and, in effect, the culture that emerged for us as people — speaks to parallel and unifying representations of hope, transformation, and empowerment. Through it all, isn’t it these aspects of our lives that get us through life’s difficult situations, particularly those where we are told we don’t belong? 

In the Black prophetic tradition, our experiences as a people hold profound meanings rooted in our history and beacons that shed light on the source of strength to move through all pain, misery and strife. This light illuminates our ability to embrace the promise to never be alone through it all — and the ways in which we have “gotten over,” collectively and individually. Just as we understand energy can never be created or destroyed, our ancestors understood us to be energetic beings where even death is not the end, but spiritually and physically, may be the beginning of something new. 

The Good Friday release of Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter” and its tribute to Linda Martell embody the essence of Easter’s message of resurrection, bringing to light unsung stories and celebrating the rebirth of cultural narratives we have long needed to know and celebrate. It’s a poignant reminder of our continuous journey towards justice and representation, ensuring that the legacies of foremothers like Martell are remembered and honored. Through this album and its tributes, we are invited to reflect on the broader themes of holding space, redemption, and resurrection, underscoring the significance of remembering and celebrating those who have paved the way for a more inclusive and equitable future.

In the spirit of resurrection, let us meditate on the following

We give thanks for and honor all those who have gone before us.

They are our firm foundation.

We deserve to enter and take up space in places that celebrate us.

We are worthy.

We are qualified.

We will never forget the price that has been paid for us to be our full selves.

And when our time comes, may we find great pleasure in occupying as we feel it, making space for our foreparents and kin as we climb higher.

With each tribute, ever higher, ever stronger, ever brighter. amen.

Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones

Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones is a faith leader helping people to find their groove in a fast-paced world, as a consultant for various arts and faith organizations and professor of music in contemporary societies at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. She is an award-winning author of Flaming? The Peculiar Theopolitics of Fire and Desire in Black Male Gospel Performance (Oxford University Press). For more information, please visit

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