Chicago

Black and Country: An Interview with Jimmie Allen

By Katelyn Skye Bennett

Jimmie Allen is a country star known for his chart-topping hit, “Best Shot.” He is also Black. Jimmie grew up on the genre; he said it was all his dad listened to. Thus, Jimmie is country to his core, but as one of the few Black artists in the field, he holds a unique position.

“I have an opportunity to tell people it doesn’t even matter what you look like or where you’re from; dreams aren’t defined by your skin color, by your place of origin, you know. You can kind of do whatever you want no matter what you look like or no matter what your dream is,” Jimmie said.

Jimmie Allen relaxes after his performance at the Windy City Smokeout, July 12, 2019.

We met backstage at the United Center, Chicago, where he had performed only hours ago. Now Jimmie was relaxing with his entourage over a game of cornhole. He joked that he and his drummer Seth always kill it in the game, but sometimes they allow the others a win just to make them feel better.

He couldn’t have performed on more perfect day in Chicago. On Friday, July 12, the high was 88 a drop from earlier in the week and the sky was a cloudless blue. He helped kick off the Windy City Smokeout, a three day festival featuring acts like Chris Young, LANCO, and Old Dominion.

When asked some challenges of being Black in a very white field, Jimmie replied, “Honestly it’s been perks. I haven’t had any [challenges]. It’s like being the first to do something or being one of three people who look like me. I think it’s harder to be a white country artist than a Black one, honestly, ‘cause there’s so many of them.”

He continued, “It’s only me, Kane [Brown], Darius [Rucker], Charley Pride, Mickey Guyton. You got a lot of people that aren’t on the mainstream level, but they’re selling out clubs like Tony Jackson, Aaron Vance, bunch of other people too.” 

With less than a handful of Black country artists currently on the radio, it’s easy to stand out. And while the minuscule number of Black artists and lack of Asian, Latinx, or Indigenous ones on the radio shows a huge need for diversity within the genre, country music is open to everyone.

“I feel like when you chase a dream, you gotta go in and be yourself,” Jimmie said. “Country’s the one genre that lets me embrace every part of me.”

Jimmie Allen smiles with fans in the meet and greet tent.

He was clearly comfortable on stage and among the crowd, which at his 5 p.m. performance was large enough to fill the plaza yet have room to walk without excusing yourself or spilling your beer. He made a point to travel throughout the audience as he sang “Underdog,” and he gave a shout out to the military and student teachers during that song as well.

Jimmie weaved a number of country hits, primarily from the 90’s, into his own mix, helping the crowd sing along. He also incorporated Coldplay’s “Fix You” and the nation’s latest obsession, “Old Town Road,” between his own hits like “American Heartbreaker.”

Onstage, he admitted to having a few “adult apple juices,” and while he was clearly tipsy, he had a steady handle on his music. His voice was strong, and he demonstrated his guitar ability while picking up an acoustic for “Best Shot,” which he adapted for his girlfriend offstage.

Backstage, chewing tobacco and spitting it off to the side, Jimmie declined to talk about her, but he was willing to talk about his son Aiden from a previous relationship, who is now five, about to enter Kindergarten, and obsessed with Spiderman. Since the time of the interview, he has become engaged to his lady, Alexis Gale. 

Since that life change was still three days away from his Chicago visit, we chatted about his travels, his son, and the show. Jimmie shared that his least favorite interview question is how or why he got into country music.

“I figure people never ask white country artists that, only Black. I’ve never heard someone ask a white country artist why’d you get into [the genre] because they assume, sometimes you see a white guy, he’s country,” he commented.

Jimmie’s work as a contemporary country artist demonstrates that the genre is open to anyone who wants to listen, and it pushes the limits of who can work in the field itself. From his home state of Delaware, climbing to fame in Nashville, and now touring internationally, Jimmie is an example of black excellence within the country world.

Cover photo courtesy of Windy City Smokeout.

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