Morgan Wallen’s surprise Grand Ole Opry performance draws outrage. ‘Slap in the face’

By Mike Stunson

The Grand Ole Opry, a weekly concert regarded as the most prestigious show for country musicians, is under fire after a surprise appearance from controversial singer Morgan Wallen.

Wallen was barred from country music radio stations and removed from streaming platform playlists last February after he was heard calling one of his friends the N-word in a clip shared by TMZ. He apologized on social media and later on “Good Morning America,” calling his words “unacceptable and inappropriate,” McClatchy News reported.

Though many said he was a victim of cancel culture, Wallen’s “Dangerous: The Double Album” proved to be the most popular album of 2021, according to Billboard data.

His recent return to the spotlight has been met with mostly positive reactions, and he quickly sold out 48 of his 54 dates for “The Dangerous Tour,” which begins in February, according to Whiskey Riff.

Wallen surprised fans at the Opry on Saturday, Jan. 8, when he performed with featured artist Ernest, who was making his debut at the Opry.

Not everyone was on board with Wallen’s cameo, including some people who reminded the Opry it denounced racism in a social media post in June 2020.

“You can do so much better,” one person told the Opry. “Disappointed in seeing continued proof you talk the talk but aren’t willing to walk the walk.”

“Congratulations on telling everyone racism is still a big part of country music,” another user said. “And telling Black country artists they still don’t matter.”

The performance also drew scorn from The Black Opry, which calls itself the “home for Black artists and Black fans of country, blues, folk and Americana music.”

In a letter to two executives with the Opry, Black Opry founder Holly G asked of Wallen’s appearance, “How was this deemed okay?”

“It felt like a slap in the face to see you all celebrate Charley Pride, only to pull this stunt 24 hours later,” Holly G said. “You should know that our community is extremely disappointed, though many are not surprised. A stage that was once a dream destination for many Black artists has now cemented itself as one of the many Nashville stages on which we know we are not respected.”

The previous day, the Opry made a post about Pride, who became the first Black solo singer to perform on the Opry stage on Jan. 7, 1967.

Musicians Jason Isbell and Joy Oladokun were among those who commented on social media after Saturday’s Grand Ole Opry performance.

“Last night @opry you had a choice- either upset one guy and his ‘team,’ or break the hearts of a legion of aspiring Black country artists,” Isbell said. “You chose wrong and I’m real sad for a lot of my friends today. Not surprised though. Just sad.”

“Morgan Wallen’s thoughtless redemption tour is the nail in the coffin of me realizing these systems, and this town is really not for us,” said Oladokun, who is Black and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. “Imma keep making my lil music in my attic, y’all can listen if you want. I don’t know that I’ll do this work forever.”

Neither Wallen nor the Opry have commented on the backlash from the singer’s appearance.

On Sunday, Wallen congratulated his friend Ernest, whom he performed alongside at the Opry.

“I’ve been able (to) witness your talent for ’bout 7 years now, I’m really excited the world gets to witness the same thing soon,” Wallen said of the up-and-comer “Thanks for letting me be a part of it.”

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