The song that is the key to Beyoncé’s new album

More specifically, he was inspired by the story of the Little Rock Nine, a group of teenagers who – following the 1954 Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court case that ruled segregated schools were unconstitutional – were the first African American students to enrol at Little Rock’s Central High School. Despite the change in federal law, the Arkansas governor told the students they couldn’t attend and brought in the National Guard to prevent them entering. After three weeks of tension, US President Eisenhower eventually sent federal troops to escort the students safely into the school, and on 27 September 1957, they walked through angry mobs and up the school steps for their first classes. Out of the many stories of defiance from that period, this one in particular stuck with McCartney. In 2016 he met two of the students, Thelma Mothershed Wair and Elizabeth Eckford, backstage at his Arkansas concert, writing on Twitter (now X) afterwards: “Incredible to meet two of the Little Rock Nine – pioneers of the civil rights movement and inspiration for Blackbird.”

McCartney had the struggle of black women especially in mind when writing the song. In his 1997 book, Many Years From Now, McCartney said of Blackbird: “This was really a song from me to a black woman, experiencing these problems in the States: ‘Let me encourage you to keep trying, to keep your faith, there is hope.'”

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It feels appropriate, then, that Beyoncé has not only covered the song, but used it as an opportunity to showcase the talents of four other black women. On Blackbiird – the name slightly tweaked to reference that Cowboy Carter is the act ii of a three-part musical project – Beyoncé collaborates with four black female country singers: Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy and Reyna Roberts. Adell, who released her debut album Bunny Buckle last year, has built a huge following on TikTok, a way of bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of country music and forging her own path. After Beyoncé announced her new country direction at this year’s Super Bowl, Adell tweeted: “As one of the only black girls in the country music scene, I hope Bey decides to sprinkle me with a dash of her magic for a collab.” (It’s not clear yet if Adell was a last minute addition on the album, or if she already knew something we didn’t).

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Beyoncé is not the first black artist to cover Blackbird: musicians including Bettye LaVette, The Paragons, Anderson. Paak, Ramsey Lewis and more have put their take on McCartney’s song. But as with everything Beyoncé does, the choice is intentional and when she, helped along by four new exciting voices in country music, sings: “You were only waiting for this moment to arise,” it feels like a significant moment.

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