Darius Rucker on Racism, Diversity and Being a Positive Change in Country Music

Darius Rucker is, by his own admission, an anomaly in country music. One of a handful of successful Black artists in country music. Rucker is proud to be part of a change in a genre that isn’t know for its diversity, and hopes to inspire other Black artists who might feel like there isn’t a place for them in country music

“When I came to Nashville 16 years ago, there was nobody that looked like me,” Rucker tells Variety. “Now Kane Brown’s playing stadiums. Mickey [Guyton] sings at the Super Bowl, you got Blanco Brown and Breland and Chapel Hart and all these great bands getting record deals and getting a shot, and it’s great.”

Rucker’s talk with the outlet came shortly after Maren Morris announced she was leaving country music, a statement she later clarified to say she didn’t mean as literally as the headlines made it out to be. Still, Rucker says he understands her viewpoint, while also vowing to be an artist that stays, despite the challenges.

“I get her frustration, and I’m frustrated and upset about things, too,” the South Carolina native acknowledges. “But I see it a different way. I’m not gonna walk away, I’m gonna try to change it, and I can’t change it from the outside. I think there’s a lot of people in the business who want it to be better and want country music to look more like America, and it’s good for me to be trying to help with that.”

Rucker has strong, albeit conflicted, feelings about the controversy surrounding Jason Aldean‘s “Try That In A Small Town” single. The video was pulled from CMT due to some declaring the video racist. since it showed an infamous courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee, where a lynching took place almost 100 years ago, along with footage of rallies, looting and more.

Rucker didn’t mind the single, per se, but drew the line at the video, and told Aldean as much.

“I see why people jumped to that conclusion, but when I heard the song the first time, I didn’t hear racism,” Rucker says. “I heard a song about living in a small town. Conservative, sure, but not racist. But then you see the video and it’s another thing — you see that and it saddens you for a second. I talked to Jason about it, and I realize where his heart is and where it came from. And I feel bad for him — but you did it.

“I wish it wasn’t there,” he continues. “I really wish people’s parents weren’t teaching them that stuff, but they are. So I just want to be a part of the change. That’s why I’m still part of country music — I’m not going anywhere because I want to change it, I want to keep making it better. And I think that’s what me and a whole bunch of people are doing.”

The recent CMA Humanitarian of the Year Award recipient had no idea when he released his first country single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” in 2008, after unprecedented success fronting the rock band Hootie & the Blowfish, that he would still be part of the reigning class of hitmakers in country music 15 years later. It’s partly due to his own talent and tenacity, and partly due to the artists whose career he tries to emulate.

Keith Urban, Brad Paisley — those are folks that did it right,” the 57-year-old reflects. “I think the main goal of country music is to stay humble, and those guys did that. I’m ten years older than both of them, but those are guys that I’ve patterned myself after. Tim McGraw has been relevant since the ’90s, and not just relevant — a star, still putting out hits. Those are all good people, too, the sort of people that you want to call your friend.”

Rucker is the latest celebrity to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s an honor that far exceeds any of the dreams he had for himself.

“This is stuff you don’t even dream about when you’re from South Carolina, struggling growing up and wanting to be a singer,” Rucker said during his acceptance speech. “That’s all I ever wanted to be was to be a singer, but you never dream that this stuff is going to happen. I’m walking the streets the other day, and I’m seeing Marilyn Monroe, I’m seeing Charley Pride. I’m seeing Buddy Hackett.

“These are names that stuck in my mind because they were big stars,” he added “To be here, right here, with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Rucker is spending much of 2024 on the road with Hootie & the Blowfish, as part of their global Summer Camp With Trucks Tour. Find all of his music and tour dates at DariusRucker.com.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of EB Media/Austin Friedline