Beyonce seized the spotlight at the Country Music Association Awards by cheerily performing a fusion song, in a powerful if unstated message on US race relations.
The pop superstar, whose appearance at the awards in Nashville had not been previously announced, took the stage without an introduction and sang a track off her latest album with country veterans Dixie Chicks seamlessly joining in.
The song, “Daddy Lessons,” already had a country twang but the live version went fuller in regional directions with shouts of “Yeehaw!” as well as New Orleans-style brass.
Beyonce, who has been increasingly outspoken in support of the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality, was a rare African American performer at the annual awards.
Country music has historically been linked to white culture in the US South, although the genre’s audience has rapidly grown across the United States in recent years.
Beyonce, clad in an angelic white dress and layers of pearls, and the Dixie Chicks opened the song by each saying simply, “Texas,” highlighting their shared home state.
But Beyonce — who in August wowed the MTV Video Music Awards with a medley from her album “Lemonade” that included dramatized shootings — made no overt commentary in Nashville.
Dixie Chicks — who incorporated lyrics from their hit “Long Time Gone” into the song — soon after the awards released a free download of the “Daddy Lessons” collaboration with Beyonce.
Social media reaction was prolific and largely positive, with the awards initially overtaking the dramatic final game of baseball’s World Series as the top trending topic on Twitter.
But some country music fans posted that they did not appreciate Beyonce’s inclusion, triggering heated and at times racially tinged arguments on Twitter.
The Dixie Chicks are no strangers to scrutiny. The all-female trio was widely boycotted and largely blacklisted from country music radio after frontwoman Natalie Maines in 2003 criticized then President George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq during a concert in London.
The Country Music Association awards, which was marking its 50th anniversary, also brought out another surprise star — Taylor Swift.
Swift — a country singer turned pop titan who according to Forbes magazine was the past year’s highest-paid woman in music — presented the night’s Entertainer of the Year award to Garth Brooks, one of the top-selling artists of all time who has returned to the scene after a hiatus.
Chris Stapleton won Male Vocalist of the Year for the second straight year. A long-in-the-shadows songwriter, the 38-year-old was the surprise winner at the 2015 awards, bringing mainstream attention to his debut album “Traveller.”
Country music superstar and former American Idol contestant Carrie Underwood won for Female Vocalist of the Year.
This year’s Album of the Year went to “Mr. Misunderstood” by Eric Church, a country star who branched further into other genres.