While singer Morgan Wallen continues to run the country charts for saying the “N”-word, the rest of the genre is slowly but surely diversifying. Lil Nas X stamped country with his pink cowboy flair on “Old Town Road” back in 2019, and it’s only continued to grow from there.
Of course, the chart domination of “Old Town Road” didn’t kick off gays in country, folk, and Americana; Brandi Carlile has been running the folk side of the Grammys for years, and the late, great Patrick Haggerty was making Americana gay with Lavender Country was back in the ’70s.
When it comes to broadening the scope of country, few acts are doing it like the Kentucky Gentlemen. These openly gay Black country-singing twins are broadening the genre with nothing but good tunes and good looks.
Just look at the material:
Born and raised in Versailles, Kentucky, twins Brandon and Derek Campbell have been singing together for fun from the very beginning. From church choir to making up songs with their older brother, their voices were as in tune as they are.
“I remember us never having to practice sounding good together,” Derek recalls on their website. “We just sang together, and it worked.”
While the music may have come easily, the country music industry has been anything but.
“It’s a lot for people to witness two grown Black men – who happen to have some muscles and look good – walk in a room and stand in their truth,” Brandon tells WSMV.
That sense of discomfort the pair stepped into when they decided to pursue music was almost palpable in their new home of Nashville, Tennessee (which, as of recently, is not exactly the bastion of the LGBTQ+ community).
In addition to their queerness, being Black in a majority white community and genre brings its own difficulties.
Despite the intersections of oppression they face in their pursuit, they’re ultimately undeterred from making their beautiful music.
“As much as we face that, we know the music speaks for itself, for sure,” Derek notes. “And people feel that. I think people feel that through our music.”
If anything, the pair says the experience they face in making their music is par for the course.
“Honestly, waking up and going at it being who we are every day is no different than waking up our whole lives being Black and gay in America, so it’s not anything that we aren’t used to,” he continues. “So we just stay in the face of it every day, keep riding, keep getting through it.”
Their 2022 EP The Kentucky Gentlemen, Vol. 1 earned them a spot in the new Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit on the Black Opry, as well as a place in the Black Opry’s exclusive “Artists To Watch” Residency. It also earned them plenty of fans ready to hear more.
“Showing up as your most authentic self over and over and over again will, with time, release so much weight off your shoulders and will start opening doors,” Derek explains. “It can be hard at times, but it’s so much easier than wasting time not being true to who you are.
“We understand the importance of where we’re going and what that means to people like us. We want to be the same folks that we wish we had always gotten to see on the main stage.”
Check out the video for their single, “Whatever You’re Up For”: