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How women defined country music and the positive effects they had on the genre

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Women in Country Music

Women studies


Music plays a very important role in my life. Its on all the time, in my car, at work, at home when Im eating, when Im working on my computer, when Im relaxing, when Im typing this paper, I even have a radio in my bathroom. I cant remember a time when I was younger when music didnt play a role in my life. And Ive listened to all kinds. From folk to classical to classic rock to jazz to oldies to heavy metal to rap. But since my sophomore year of High School Ive been stuck on country music. I was introduced to it at Wild West City, my part time summer job. That first year there, I hated it. It was pounded into my head every day. Theres only so much of Kenny Rogers I could stand. But eventually it grew on me.

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This was about the time I started to sing as an outlet of expression. I found that I could relate to the female country artists. That they sang about something, that their songs had stories, and not just a beat like the pop music I had been listening too. I found it easier to sing these songs because I could feel them. And thats how I cam to love country music.

This includes some of the women who were at the roots of country who made it big in the male dominated music industry. Next is Patsy Cline, a legend in her own right, she took country music and made it hers in only 3 years. I chose Dolly Parton over Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn because not only does her music span over 3 decades but shes an accomplished actress as well. And next, I put my favorite artist, Terri Clark. Shes todays country without a pop influence and its her songs I really enjoy singing and listening too. Next, Shania, shes added a pop flavor to country music and has done it better than no other artist in the past. And finally a group of girls called the Dixie Chicks. Their clothing may be trendy, but they are still country.

The Female Pioneers of Country Music

Louise Massey is called the ‘original rhinestone cowboy.’ Born in 1902, she formed a band in 1918 comprised of, herself, her father, husband, and two brothers. Louise Massey and The Westerners, after a successful audition for a touring company, started a two-year tour of the United States and Canada. By 1930, they had landed a five-year contract with CBS radio, and in 1934 their first hit, ” When the Azaleas Start Blooming,” selling 3 million copies. Later Louise, started composing her own music and had what is classified as the first ever crossover hit on the hillbilly and pop charts with “My Adobe Hacienda.” In 1982 she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and in 1983 she passed away.

Also blazing the Hillbilly and Rockabilly trails was Rose Maddox. She started out singing with her brothers. She began her career at the age of eleven and literally grew up in the male dominated music world. As vocalist for this group she toured with them all over the San Joaquin Valley in California. By the 1960’s they had had many hits, but disbanded leaving Rose to forge a trail of her own. And she did. She was Country Vocalist of the Year as named by Billboard and Cashbox Magazines and was still thriving in 1995, at the age of 70, when she received the Grammy nomination in the Bluegrass Category. Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Janis Joplin all cite her has a major influence on their lives and music.

Also making a mark for women in country music was two women from Mount Carmel, Illinois. Dolly and Mille Good called themselves The Girls of the Golden West. They played on the National Barn Dance and Boone County Jamboree making themselves one of the most popular acts in the 1930s nationwide. The continued to thrive in the forties and made appearances together up until the death of Dolly.

Another early pathfinder is Patsy Montana also known as Rubye Blevins. She was the first female artist to sell a million records with her album “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart” in 1935 (a record she had written herself). She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame after her death in 1996. Her career spanned seven decades and she performed whenever her health permitted. Her biggest hit, was not an instant one, but it never died and neither will she.

You can still hear this song on the radio; its been remade by such artists as Suzy Boggus and Leann Rimes.

Patsy Cline

About 12 years after her death Patsy Cline was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973 around some controversy. Patsy Cline had only been famous for three years before her untimely death in a plane crash but three years was enough time for her to show the country music community what a treasure her voice was. Born in Virginia in 1932, her birth name was Virginia Patterson Hensley. As she grew, she sang in the church choir and at any school event she could. At sixteen she auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry, she did not make the cut, but now she had a dream. She joined Bill Peer’s Melody Boys and Girls in 1952 and married Gerald Cline in 1953 at 21. After singing on the “Midnight Jamboree,” a radio show, she landed a recording contract with 4-Star records. With this contract she recorded “Come On In,” I’ve Loved and Lost Again,” and “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray.” However, she didn’t make it big until January of 1957 when she sang a song she did not like on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. She not only won the contest, the song became a top seller, selling over a million copies. Later that year she divorced and remarried Charlie Dick who encouraged her singing, and signed with Decca records. It was with Decca that her first single “I Fall to Pieces” became the Number One Country Hit, and with seven other hits “Sweet Dreams,” Crazy,” “She’s Got You,” “Faded Love,” “Leavin on Your Mind,” “South of the Border,” and “You Made Me Love You.” She was one of the first to stop wearing the cowboy outfits and start wearing evening dresses. In 1961, Patsy was in a horrible car accident that left her critically injured. It was during this recoup time she recorded Crazy, which is her most famous single. And just as she started to record again another tragedy struck. She was flying home to Nashville when the plane she was in met with a patch of bad weather and subsequently crashed. Patsy’s light shone bright for a while, a brightness still shining today. There is a movie about her life, “Sweet Dreams,” numerous books, and even a musical, “Always…. Patsy Cline.” Some of the awards and recognition she received are as follows:

  • 1961 Number One Female Artist
  • 1962 Number One Female Artist
  • 1962 Number One “I Fall to Pieces”
  • 1973 Country Music Hall of Fame Induction
  • 1987 CMA Awards for Outstanding Contribution in Country Music
  • 1992 Grammy Awards Recording Hall of Fame Induction for “Crazy”
  • 1993 Commemorative Patsy Cline Stamp, US Postal Service
  • 1994 National Cowgirl Hall of Fame Induction
  • 1995 Grammy Award for Creative Contribution to the Field of Recording

Even twenty years after her death she is still be recognized for her contributions to Country Music.

Dolly Parton

With 5 Academy of Country Music Awards (6 nominations), 5 American Music Awards, 8 Country Music Association Awards (38 nominations), 5 Grammies (33 Nominations), and 1 nomination for an Oscar, Dolly Parton must be one of the most highly awarded artist in country music. She was born into an impoverished family in the Great Smoky Mountain Region of Tennessee. At 18, just out of high school, Dolly left her 11 siblings and moved to Nashville. Less than two years later Dumb Blond, hits the charts and climbs to No. 24 and her second Something Fishy reached No. 17. Later this year, 1967, Porter Wagoner hires her to replace his female singer on his television show. This was Dollys big break. The duets they sang routinely made the Top 10. In 1969, Dolly is inducted into the Grand Ole Opry and in 1971 Joshua reaches No. 1, this was her first solo No. 1. Joshua was followed by a string of No. 1s: Jolene, Please Dont Stop Loving Me, Love is Like a Butterfly, and The Bargain Store. Then, Dolly starts something different. She crosses over to pop music. Here You Come Again was No. 1 on the Country chart for 5 straight weeks and reached No. 3 on the Pop Chart. In 1978, her album goes Platinum; she is the first female country artist to reach Platinum Status. In 1980, her first film is released, 9 to 5, which becomes another success. She won the Peoples Choice Award for Best Actress and a nomination from the Golden Globe Awards. Another feat by Dolly is that in 1982 she hit No. 1 for the second time with I Will Always Love You. Dolly since has starred in many television films, movies, and specials. She heads Dolly Parton Enterprises, a $100 million media empire, and Dollywood, her theme park which ranks No. 4 in the most visited US Theme Parks. Dolly is a country legend. Not only can she sing, and act, but also she commands a large international audience. No other artist with country roots has such stature, except for Elvis. 

Terri Clark

Terri Clark isn’t the famous of the famous or the cream of the crop. She’s not the sexiest, prettiest, skinniest, or even has the best voice. But she’s my favorite, she’s female, she’s country, she fits this paper. Better yet, she’s hard-core country.

Terri Clark reigns from Alberta, Canada. She moved to Nashville at 18 and tried to start her career. She sang in every dive honky tonk bar in Nashville. Almost every music label turned her down on Music Row. No one thought she could succeed singing the style of country she was. But in 1994, Mercury Records signed her on a gamble. One year later, Terri was on the map with “Better Things to Do, her first single, and a number one. In this song, she is basically giving a guy the brush off. On her next CD, she did a Linda Rondstadt song, “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” singing about how she can’t get all these men to leave her alone. And on her latest album “Easy On the Eyes is a song where she says goodbye to this guy who looks great but is only shows up once in a while. These songs have become like a trademark. Everything on her albums is pure country; there isn’t a hint of pop music anywhere. She’s also won plenty of awards:

  • Canadian CMA 1997 Entertainer of the Year
  • Canadian CMA 1997 Female Vocalist of the Year
  • Canadian CMA 1997 Album of the Year (Just the Same)
  • Canadian CMA 1996 Album of the Year (Terri Clark)
  • Canadian CMA 1996 Song of the Year (“Better Things to Do”)
  • TNN/Music City News 1996 Female Star of Tomorrow
  • Country Weekly Golden Pick Awards 1996 Favorite Female Newcomer
  • BILLBOARD Magazine 1995 Top New Female Country Artist

Shania Twain

The biggest star of them all in present day society is without question, Shania Twain. Come On Over came out two and half years after her last release of The Women In Me. The latter is a nine times platinum album and spent over 140 weeks on the Billboard Country Albums chart. Also reigning from Canada, Shanias was born named Eileen, in Timmons, Ontario. She started singing at a young age, being pulled out of bed to sing at midnight at a local bar. At 21, Shania lost her parents in a car accident and took on the responsibility of raising her three younger siblings. During this time she performed at Ontario’s Deerhurst Resort, learning the ins and outs of theatrical performances. In 1990 her younger siblings had grown up and moved out on their own leaving Shania was free to pick up and move to Nashville. It was at this time she changed her name; Shania is Ojibway Indian meaning “I’m on my way.” And that she was. She moved to a city with a map and demo tape. In 1993 she released her self-titled debut album, met and wed her husband, Mutt Lange, a rock producer (AC/DC, Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, etc.). It was with him that songs of The Woman in Me were produced and written producing four consecutive number ones for Shania. But with the completion of Come On Over, Shania has not only wowed the Country Audiences but the Pop Audiences as well. She was the first to have her songs hit and stay number one on both charts at the same time. Her singles have again rose to the number one spot and stayed there. In 1999 she became the fifth woman to win the CMA Entertainer of the Year Award. A woman hasnt won it in 13 years, the last being Reba McEntire, who presented Shania with the award. Shania also won the 1999 International Achievement Award for broadening the country audience abroad.

Dixie Chicks

The Dixie Chicks are comprised of three phenomenal women who have brought the fiddle and the banjo back the country music. They too are rule breakers and trendsetters. The Dixie Chicks started in 1989 as four girls singing and playing down home country music as a streetband in Dallas. They even dressed the part. Robin Lynn Macy and Laura Lynch were the lead singers with Martie and Emily, sisters, playing backup. In 1992, for the release of their second and third albums they asked Lloyd Maines to contribute with his guitar. Around 1993, Robin Lynn left the group and the next year they released another album. In 1996, Laura left the group and Natalie Maines, daughter of the guitarist on two previous Dixie Chicks albums, was asked to join. Natalie left a full scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. They got a six album record deal with Sony in 1997. In March of 1998 I Can Love You Better peaked at No. 6 putting them in the limelight and gaining publicity. A lot of publicity was directed at their clothing. They werent dressed in country garb, but the trendiest styles, a new look for country music. Some chastised them for this decision and some praised them for it. TV guide, Seventeen, and In Style have commented on how the Chicks are bending country music world and making it more hip. Rolling Stone called them the badass queenpins of country, a very apt description. There follow-up single, Theres Your Trouble spent two weeks at No.1, Wide Open Spaces spent four weeks there and now Cowboy Take Me Away has hit No. 1. The album Wide Open Spaces is the biggest selling album ever by a country duo, and Fly is moving up right behind it. Fly is an album about women defining who they are their way. The most controversial song is Goodbye Earl. Its an upbeat song about a woman who is abused, who turns around, with the help of her friend, to kill her abuser. Some radio stations refuse to even play it. Right now, the Chicks are playing the music they want, and their style is synonymous with fun. Who couldnt love em?

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