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In an exclusive session held during CRS 2021: The Virtual Experience, two of Country Music’s most prominent trailblazers, 2020 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, Luke Combs, and 2020 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, Maren Morris, shared their perspectives on accountability in Country music.

During the conversation, moderated by NPR Music’s critic and correspondent and the Nashville correspondent for WXPN’s World Café, Ann Powers, Combs and Morris started a call for an industry-wide response, encouraging to build a more accepting culture and diverse genre. 

During the one-hour session that took place in front of radio programmers, DJs, music industry executives, and more, Combs and Morris offered their views for leaning into a better future that calls for unity and more inclusion. 

Combs spoke about the conversation, saying, “I think we just wanted everyone to know that we’re here and that we want to be stewards of our genre because we are proud of it. And 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 dreams come true in the amazing genre that we have.” 

Having told his story during the Q&A, Combs accentuated that one’s way of thinking can change, adding, I’m a living, mouth-breathing example that people can change.”

Morris made a passionate plea for there to be more people of color accepted into the format, saying, There’s an influx of Black talent, and it’s only going to make our genre, our songs, what we consider catchy, better. We kind of have to start at home — Black songwriters in the room making hit songs with us, feeling comfortable and welcome to do so, will change the sound of country radio for the better.”

CRS 2021: The Virtual Experience continues through Friday, Feb. 19.