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Dolly, Willie, and Linda: How Beyoncé's Interludes Help Tell the Story Behind Cowboy Carter

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A Beyoncé album is best experienced by listening to it in full, and Cowboy Carter is no exception. Its rich narrative plays out across the expanse of 27 tracks that include not just songs, but spoken interludes. For the album, which released early Friday morning, Beyoncé invites listeners to tune in to a fictional radio station, KNTRY Radio Texas (a cheeky play on the fictional broadcast news station, KNTY News, that she debuted as part of her Renaissance world tour set), where different radio shows are hosted by some of the biggest names in country music.

On Cowboy Carter, you'll find country icon Dolly Parton riffing about "that hussy with the good hair" before introducing Beyoncé's take on her legendary song, "Jolene," Country Music Hall of Famer Willie Nelson hosting an hour aptly titled "Smoke Show," and pioneering Black country artist Linda Martell hosting an eponymous show, all on KNTRY Radio. By tapping these stars for interludes, Beyoncé firmly positions herself in the country space with an eye toward the future, while honoring the legends who have come before her. The inclusion of Martell is especially significant, as she was the first female Black artist to enter the Top 25 on Billboard's country charts, back in 1969, as well as the first Black woman to perform at the Grand Ole Opry; last month, with her single "Texas Hold 'Em," Beyoncé became the first Black woman to hit number one on the Billboard Hot Country chart.

Read more about each of the country stars featured on Cowboy Carter's interludes and the symbolism behind their appearances.

Read more: How Beyoncé Changed the Music Industry

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton appears on an interlude track titled "Dolly P," which leads into Beyoncé's spirited reimagining of "Jolene." On the track, she addresses Beyoncé as "Miss Honey B" and herself as "Dolly P," and jokingly calls Becky with the good hair, the villainous other woman from Lemonade, "that hussy with the good hair," before comparing her to the auburn-haired Jolene.

Beyoncé's cover of "Jolene" is something Parton had anticipated for a while; during a 2022 appearance on The Daily Show, Parton told Trevor Noah that she hoped Beyoncé would cover it.

"I would just love to hear 'Jolene' done in just a big way, kind of like how Whitney [Houston] did my ‘I Will Always Love You,’ just someone that can take my little songs and make them like powerhouses," she said. "That would be a marvelous day in my life if [Beyoncé] ever does do ‘Jolene.’”

Parton has also been a vocal supporter of Beyoncé ahead of Cowboy Carter's release, from congratulating her via Instagram for "Texas Hold 'Em" going number one on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart to showing love during a recent interview with Knox News, in which Parton enthusiastically praised her.

"I love her!" she said in the interview. “She's a beautiful girl and a great singer.”

Parton also appears on the beginning of the track "Tyrant," where she addresses Bey as "Cowboy Carter" and encourages her to "strike a match and light up this juke joint!"

Willie Nelson

On the album, Beyoncé's fellow Texas native Willie Nelson hosts a "Smoke Hour" which is featured on two tracks, "Smoke Hour * Willie Nelson" and "Smoke Hour II." Nelson's first interlude is the first track on the album to introduce KNTRY Radio Texas; in the beginning of the clip, static can be heard as someone flips through radio stations, playing snippets of Son House's “Don’t You Mind People Grinnin' In Your Face," Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Down by the River Side,” Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene,” and Roy Hamilton's "Don’t Let Go." The clips are fitting, as these songs were performed by Black artists who were pioneers in their genres but were largely overlooked by music history. A major theme of Cowboy Carter and Beyoncé's larger three-act project has been to shine a light on representation in music history.

Nelson's inclusion on the album is meaningful, especially when considering his place in country music history. A pioneer of "outlaw country," Nelson has achieved accolades in the genre, but has often been at odds with the conservative values associated with country music, as a vocal advocate of marijuana legalization, LGBTQ+ rights, and Democratic politics.

In Nelson's second interlude is a pointed message about looking beyond conventions, another theme of the album, which defies easy categorization, especially when it comes to genre. In addition to country sounds, the album nods to gospel, trap, rap, pop, rock, and even Irish folk music.

"If there’s one thing you can take away from my set today, let it be this: Sometimes you don't know what you like until someone you trust turns you on to some real good sh-t."

Read more: Beyoncé Is Boldly Defying Country’s Stereotypes

Linda Martell

Of all the interludes on Cowboy Carter, Martell's may hold the most symbolism. Though Martell released just one album, 1970's Color Me Country, she was one of country's first Black woman stars, becoming the first Black female artist to enter the Top 25 of Billboard's country charts in 1969 with her song "Color Him Father." She was also the first Black woman to perform on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Martell's career was hindered after she left the label she was signed to, Plantation Records, because of its name. Martell, now 82, has said she was blackballed in the industry by the label's owner.

In her interlude track for the album, "The Linda Martell Show," Martell addresses the limitations of boxing an artist into just one genre. It's an issue that's followed Beyoncé throughout her career, especially when it comes to winning awards. Beyoncé and other successful artists of color have often won in genre-specific categories, but have failed to win as many awards in major genre-spanning categories, despite the popularity of their music.

"This particular tune stretches across a range of genres," Martell says in the interlude. "And that's what makes it a unique listening experience."

Martell echoes her sentiment on the beginning of "Spaghettii," where she remarks: "Genres are a funny little concept, aren't they? Yes, they are. In theory, they have a simple definition that's easy to understand, but in practice, well, some may feel confined." Martell's interlude leads into one of the most genre-defiant songs on the album, with Beyoncé rapping on the track and featuring Shaboozey, a singer and artist who's known for bridging hip-hop and country.


Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com.