Amazon Music’s ‘For Love & Country’ Examines Country Genre Through Its Black Artists

Amazon Music’s For Love & Country documentary, available today via the Amazon Music app and Prime Video, examines the country genre through the lens of its Black artists. Directed by Joshua Kissi and produced by DPM Projects in association with Pizza Night and division7, the film shares the stories of Black country singers and the struggles they have faced breaking into the genre.

Jimmie Allen, Blanco Brown, BRELAND, Shy Carter, Mickey Guyton, Willie Jones, Valerie June, Amythyst Kiah, Reyna Roberts, Allison Russell, Brittney Spencer and Frankie Staton are highlighted throughout the documentary with emotional and eye-opening narratives. Staton’s story of discrimination in the 1980s includes being escorted by police to a jam session in downtown Nashville while Mickey Guyton, who made GRAMMY history last year as the first solo Black woman nominated in a country category, says she still questions her place in the genre.

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“I don’t always feel like I have a home, but I’m creating a home and I hope I’m creating a space for other people of color and Black people to feel like they have a home in this genre,” Guyton says in the film.

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Amazon Music Global Head of Editorial Raymond Roker says For Love & Country came together when a producer on Amazon Music’s editorial team proposed the idea of a film in response to conversations and trends he was noticing within the genre. The team asked Kissi to direct after seeing his New York Times Op-Doc A Beach of Our Own, which focused on Black residents in Sag Harbor.

“The goal of For Love & Country is to amplify the personal stories of a new generation of Black artists claiming space in Nashville — and helping to transform the genre in the process,” Roker tells me. “All of these amazing artists are seeking to change country music’s long-held identity as music by and for white audiences.

“Our hope is that this film can be seen as a moment to help change the face of modern country by sharing these artists’ own stories and in doing so, inspire even more conversations to widen the space for more voices in the genre.”

Roker says he resonated with singer-songwriter Shy Carter’s story. Filmed at Carter’s ranch in Tennessee, the singer shares his journey while riding bareback on his horse with a mandolin in hand.

“I was struck by the familiar intersectionality of it all,” Roker says. “At once, this is a portrait of an artist and musician, a father, a landowner, and a Black man who found his home in Nashville and country music. I thought he spoke to that all so personally and poignantly throughout the film.”

Carter, a Memphis, TN, native who got his start as a songwriter penning hits for Sugarland, Kane Brown and Keith Urban, moved to Atlanta and then Los Angeles before returning to Tennessee. He admits to feeling alone once he relocated back to the South.

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“I was embraced by wonderful songwriters and have a beautiful community in Nashville, but I had a different story and I saw things differently,” Carter says. “I felt things that they didn’t feel. I experienced things that they didn’t experience.”

Carter, who has a white mother and Black father, admits to being discriminated against as a child. He says it’s this type of pain that he sometimes channels in his music.

“I wish there were more people of color to sing the songs I was writing,” he says in the film. “There’s a different way that soul comes out. The experiences of being Black in America, that puts something in your soul deep down to where you sing the song a little different.”

Carter’s advice to up-and-coming Black artists is to outwork everybody else. He’s a testament to this as the singer will make his Grand Ole Opry debut on Saturday, April 16. A dream come true for the artist; Carter says gracing the famed stage is a major accomplishment. “That’s a big benchmark to know that I’m on the right path,” he says.

Brittney Spencer moved to Nashville nine years ago from Baltimore, MD, and has received major airtime during recent performances at the CMA and ACM Awards. The singer, who got her start busking on the streets in Nashville, says pulling up to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Monday for the film premiere and seeing her face on a billboard on the side of the building was a new and welcomed experience.

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“As I watched the documentary, I saw how far we’ve come in terms of inclusivity in Nashville and I see how much further we still need to go,” she says. “It’s moments like this where we can assess what’s happened: how do we do more of what’s working, how do we adjust, how do we continue to try and meet the moment in a more impactful way. I do think that Nashville is becoming more inclusive because I don’t think anybody has the choice.”

Spencer has always wanted to be a singer. She credits acts like Taylor Swift, Missy Elliott, and the Chicks as inspiration. In the film she admits to feeling like “an other” while listening to country music when she realized there wasn’t anyone that looked like her.

“It’s not always the easiest thing being a Black artist in a world that’s still trying to figure out how to navigate inclusion,” she adds. “I keep going because I really do love what I do, and I love the fans that I get to do it for. The people who actually gravitate to my music, they give me courage, they give me strength. I’m very motivated and encouraged by the people who feel like they found a home in my story.”

Spencer credits director Kissi for allowing the artists to share their stories in their own words. Kissi says For Love & Country at its core has always been about telling the story of country music from the African American’s point of view.

“Crafting a safe space was important for the film to truly be appreciated,” Kissi says. “At every turn of the film and production we truly strived to be a place where people could come and be themselves authentically. My responsibility was making sure that their stories were held with high regard.”

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One of the stories that struck Kissi was Staton’s account of being escorted into a downtown Nashville jam session by police. The first person to arrive and sign up to perform at the venue, Staton waited until 2:30 a.m. to hear her name called.

“The quote, ‘Sometimes you have to stay, even when you don’t want to…and I’ve learned to stay a lot’ spoke volumes to me,” Kissi says. “Her strength and perseverance many years ago wasn’t in vain as we see a new fold in the genre.”

New Amazon Original songs also are available on Amazon Music’s “For Love & Country” playlist by several artists showcased in the film. Spencer praises Amazon Music for the documentary’s artistry, which ties in the release of new music, and for putting action to the difficult conversations being had.

“There’s a whole lot of light being shined on Black country artists from the streaming platforms, and I think it is so important that this conversation has been engaged in such a highly visible and productive way,” she says. “It doesn’t fall short on me that streaming services like Amazon Music have really taken the lead on adding fuel to this conversation that’s so important for the genre.”

Adds Kissi: “My hope is for people to watch this beautiful piece of film while having a different appreciation for the genre of country music and the talented Black artists who so boldly choose to stand in the light. I hope this inspires other storytellers, artists and historians to pay attention to what’s happening in the country music genre.”

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