Luke Combs has apologised for appearing with Confederate flags, saying he is now aware of how much pain that flag represents to so many. He said, by addressing the images taken from seven or eight years ago now, he wants to show that, as a highly visible country artist, people can change and learn from their mistakes.
Luke Combs addressed the images during a panel with singer Maren Morris for the Country Radio Seminar (CRS), an annual country radio broadcasters conference, that was held online on February 17. Panel moderator and NPR music critic Ann Powers asked Luke Combs about racism, equality, diversity, and accountability in country music.
Combs said, “There is no excuse for those images. I’m not trying to say this is why they were there and it’s okay that they are there because it’s not okay. I think as a younger man, that was an image that I associated to mean something else. As I’ve grown in my time as an artist and the world has changed drastically in the last five to seven years, I’m now aware of how painful that image can be to someone else and no matter what I thought at the time that that word meant or what it could have been interpreted as for myself, I would never want to be associated with something that brings so much hurt to someone else.”
He also wanted to encourage more people in the country music industry to have those hard conversations.
He added, “You do hear the old adage of ‘country music is a family.’ And I believe that more than anything, but I want it to be a family that everyone can feel like they’re a part of. Because it has changed my life; it has changed my band’s lives and my best friends’ lives that I write songs with. And I want everyone that wants to feel that to be able to experience it because it’s an incredible feeling.”
“I just want everyone out there to be able to come into our community and be accepted and not feel excluded or pushed out… I want those people to have the same opportunities that I had to feel that incredible feeling of having their dream come true in the amazing genre that we have.”
Morris also spoke about the Confederate flag, saying that as a native Texan, she also didn’t fully understand the history and context of the flag outside of just “Southern pride” until she was a teenager.
The panel came weeks after country artist Morgan Wallen was removed from radio stations and suspended by his label after being caught on video using a racial slur. Despite the backlash, Wallen’s latest release Dangerous: The Double Album remains at No. 1 on the Billboard charts for a remarkable sixth week, making him the biggest-selling artist of 2021.
Wallen later apologised via a video on social media, blaming a 72-hour drunken bender and imploring fans to stop defending him saying. “I appreciate those who still see something in me and have defended me,” he said. “But for today, please don’t. I was wrong. It’s on me to take ownership of this and I fully accept any penalties I’m facing. The timing of my return is solely upon me and the work I put in. I still have a lot of really good people in my corner trying to help me, and I appreciate you more than you know.”
Morris is one of the few country artists to publicly criticise Wallen’s actions on social media and said that she’s had some backlash, but it was minimal compared to what Black people face regularly.
She said, “I appreciate Morgan saying ‘quit defending me’ to his fans, because it’s indefensible. He knows that. We know that. All we can do, so there isn’t an elephant in the room, is say that out loud, hold our peers accountable. I don’t care if it is awkward sitting down the row from you at the next awards show.”
“Morgan is a symptom of a much bigger disease of what our genre is right now. The world is looking at us right now…People are starting to speak up. We’re not protecting our own with this wall of silence cause we’re afraid we might be cancelled next. We’re all becoming more accountable.”
American country singer-songwriter, Vince Gill has also addressed the topic explaining, “Morgan is a symptom of a much bigger disease of what our genre is right now. It was just sad. It was just disappointing. I knew that everybody was going to massacre country music. And white America, when they make the argument, ‘Well, I hear [the n-word] in rap music all the time …,’ I go, ‘Have you not been paying attention to the last 300-400 years, how that word has been used by the white community?’”
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