On Thursday, April 3rd, Tim McGraw announced that he will be releasing his 13th studio album, and his second with Big Machine Records called Sundown Heaven Town on September 16th. After years of struggling under the repressive thumb of Curb Records, who took the stance later in Tim’s career of releasing new albums only once every five years, McGraw looks to spread his wings and release new music in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade.
However there are a couple of questions that linger around the Sundown Heaven Town announcement. The first is, why is Tim McGraw making this announcement so early? Though announcing the specific date of an album release six months ahead of time isn’t completely unprecedented, it certainly is strange, especially from a major label. Usually a label would wait until about six weeks to two months before a release to make an album announcement to try and stir up anticipation for the album in a shorter time span, buffered by the release of a new single or singles. Potentially Big Machine is looking to use the ACM Awards transpiring on Sunday, April 6th, as the springboard for their release cycle.
But that is not the biggest concern about the Sundown Heaven Town, and it’s not even close. To the apparent cluelessness of Tim McGraw’s team and his label Big Machine Records, the title of McGraw’s new album has very, very strong racist connotations that directly refer back to the segregation and lynching of black people in American history. In fact the oversight seems so obvious, and the parallels so easy to draw, I hesitated posting about this for a few days, thinking it must be some April Fools week joke, or something else was amiss.
Verifiable by taking to any search engine of your choosing, the term “Sundown Town” refers to segregation, and the lynching of black people in American history, and to noting else. As Wikipedia defines the term, “Sundown Town” means “A town, city, or neighborhood in the US that was purposely all-white. The term came from signs that were allegedly posted stating that people of color had to leave the town by sundown.”
The etymology of the term “Sundown Town” refers to sayings that would be posted at the city limits of such towns, including one just outside of Hawthorne, California symbolizing the phenomenon that read, “Nigg**, Don’t Let The Sun Set On YOU In Hawthorne.” The term “Sundown Town” has also been used previously in the title of books, and the title of of movies and documentaries on the subject.
The inclusion of “Heaven” in the album title arguably doesn’t help, but hurts. Though it is pretty rare, Saving Country Music was able to find a few instances in literature where some Sundown Towns were referred to using “Heavenly” in the term such as “Heavenly Sundown Towns” or “Sundown Heavenly Towns.” Adding “Heavenly” seems to imply the Sundown Town is idyllic, divine, or purified. The little white/black segregated sun used for the “O” of the title seems especially unfortunate. Unless this is a concept album meant to call out Sundown Towns, the oversight is inexcusable.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am in no way accusing Tim McGraw or Big Machine Records of racism whatsoever. I can’t imagine any scenario where a mainstream country artist or a major American label would want to field the backlash a purposely racist album title would create in 2014. Nor can I see any benefit or motive for McGraw or Big Machine to want to underhandedly make a dig at America’s black population by the use of this term in an album title. It simply seems to be an innocent oversight of the vetting process when choosing the album’s title.
Nonetheless, the connotations seem so clear cut, I can’t imagine how or why the title of the album would not be changed. It must be changed. Or the backlash it will receive at some point in the album release process will pale in comparison to the cries of a concerned journalist.
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