Beyoncé Is Citing Her Sources on Cowboy Carter

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

If there’s one thing Beyoncé will do, it’s cite her sources. Cowboy Carter is replete with layered references to the past, present, and future of country music, and it’s clear when you look at whom she chose to collaborate with and include, whether through features, samples, instrumentals, or covers. According to Beyoncé’s press release announcing the album, she took inspiration from Nile Rodgers, Stevie Wonder, Chuck Berry, and Dolly Parton, to name some heavy hitters. Each song is a world of its own, inspired by a particular western film. To name every single contributor would take several pages, but here are some of the most notable.

Dolly Parton

Two years ago, Parton spoke to Trevor Noah about her longtime desire for Beyoncé to cover “Jolene,” in what was either a powerful act of manifestation or a hint at what was to come, since we now know Beyoncé has been waiting to release Cowboy Carter for nearly five years. Whichever it is, Dolly is first featured on “Dolly P,” where she’s leaving what sounds like a voicemail about “that hussy with the good hair you sing about,” which is followed by “Jolene,” both a cover and a total rewrite. In Beyoncé’s version, it’s less an entreaty and more of a threat:

Beyoncé also subtly nods to Parton and Patti LaBelle in “Riiverdance” with acrylic nail percussion.

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson’s contributions are also multiple; on “Smoke Hour, Willie Nelson,” we hear what sounds like someone switching dials on the radio. The track interpolates from Son House’s “Don’t You Mind People Grinnin’ in Your Face” and Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Down by the River Side” to Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” and Roy Hamilton’s “Don’t Let Go” before we hear Nelson himself lighting up and introducing “KNTRY Radio Texas.”

Eight tracks later, Nelson is back to introduce “Just for Fun,” which features another Willie …

Willie Jones

Willie Jones is one of several up-and-coming Black country singers featured on the album. He joins Beyoncé to sing “Just for Fun,” adding the rich, deep vocals the Louisiana-born singer is known for. In addition to country, his album Something to Dance To fuses hip-hop with R&B, always with a twang. Personally, I’m obsessed with his version of “Down by the Riverside.”

Linda Martell

Widely known as the first commercially successful Black woman in country music, Linda Martell faced intense racism despite the popularity of her album Color Me Country. On Cowboy Carter, she’s featured on three tracks: “Spaghettii,” “The Linda Martell Show,” and “Ya Ya.” On “The Linda Martell Show,” we hear her speaking to a cheering crowd to introduce “Ya Ya:” “This particular tune stretches across a range of genres, and that’s what makes it a unique listening experience,” she says, before the applause leads us right into “Ya Ya,” which begins by sampling Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” before Tina Turner–esque vocals that lead into an interpolation of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” Like Martell said … a range of genres.

Earlier on the album, Martell starts off “Spaghettii” by asking, “Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they?” Answering her own question, she continues: “In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined.” Seconds later, Rapyoncé appears for a collaboration with Shaboozey.


Another up-and-coming Black country artist, Shaboozey is featured twice on Cowboy Carter — first on “Spaghettii” and then on the second-to-last track, “Sweet Honey Buckin’.” He dropped his first album, Lady Wrangler, in 2018, and followed it up in 2022 with Cowboys Live Forever, Outlaws Never Die. Raised in Fairfax, Virginia, by Nigerian parents, his music has been categorized as hip-hop/rap — but particularly in his second album, the country influence on his sound is unmistakable. His next album will arrive in May.

Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, and Tiera Kennedy

The second track on the album, and the first cover, is “Blackbiird,” a melodic and straightforward cover of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” — a song originally written to honor the Little Rock Nine, the nine Black students who were the first to attend Little Rock Central High School. Harmonizing with Beyoncé are Tanner Adell, whose debut album, Buckle Bunny, has made major waves in Black country; Brittney Spencer, a country singer-songwriter who went viral for her cover of the Highwomen’s “Crowded Table” in 2020 and dropped her debut album, My Stupid Life, in January; and Alabama-born Tiera Kennedy, an R&B/country singer whose single “Jesus, My Mama, My Therapist” dropped last year.

Reyna Roberts

Country singer-songwriter Reyna Roberts is widely known for her single “Stompin’ Grounds.” On Cowboy Carter, with her her signature red hair and cowboy hat, she appears as the fourth singer harmonizing on “Blackbiird.” She also sang backup vocals for “Tyrant.”

Miley Cyrus

Now you know Bey couldn’t get Aunt Dolly without getting her goddaughter Miley Cyrus to appear on the record too. Miley joins Beyoncé for “II Most Wanted” — a ballad that happens to interpolate Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”

Post Malone

According to Instagram, Post Malone had the honor of appearing on Ms. Tina Knowles’s favorite track, “Leviis’s Jeans.”

Chuck Berry

For track 21, “Oh Louisiana,” a sped-up Beyoncé honors her roots with a cover of Chuck Berry’s 1971 hit.

Rhiannon Giddens

MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Rhiannon Giddens, whose music with bands like the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Our Native Daughters, plus her more recent solo work, has helped usher in our current Black country renaissance, plucks the banjo and plays the viola on “Texas Hold ’Em.”

Taylor Swift

Just kidding! If you think T. Swift would’ve been part of this album drop without releasing at least 13 Easter eggs over the past month instead of canoodling with her boyfriend in the Bahamas for spring break, you’ve got another thing coming. There were some unsubstantiated — emphasis on the stan — claims that her name was somewhere in those liner notes, though. Happy early April Fools’ Day.

A Cheat Sheet to Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter Features