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Female Performers in Country Music

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Female Performers in Country Music

During the early twentieth century, southern music began to be known by a somewhat more precise and diverse set of classificatory designations such as "country," "blues," and "jazz," Through the phenomenal development of the radio and recording technology, the music of the south rapidly became known throughout the nation. The contributions of early performers such as the great Jimmie Rodgers, Vernon Dalhart, Bob Wills, Milton Browne, the singing cowboys and many others are well documented. But where are the female musicians during the early development of country music, specifically during the 1920s and 1930s? In the "blues" field, the names of the legendary Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith and Ma Rainey are well known along with male performers such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, "Peg Leg Howell," and many others. In the opera, women had long held important places in the music and the same may be said of vaudeville. In earlier country music, female performers were much less prominent and their roles more muted. Furthermore, until recently, there has been a woeful lack of scholarly attention to the early roles of women in the formation of the music in its modern commercial form. A part of the problem lies in the fact that recorded country music from the pre-1940 period is difficult to find, but it is also likely that women performers were far less numerous during this period. Coltman (1978:161) reports of that of the 377 pieces of recorded country music from the period 1922-1931 he had heard, only 12 (3%) were female soloists or all female groups, only 5% of the records were male groups who would feature a female soloist, and only about 5% were known to feature women as instrumentalists....

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...liche, "You've come a long way, baby."

1Jill McWhorter is a 1990 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and is currently a reporter and staff writer for the Review Appeal in Franklin, Tennessee.

2There is some evidence that Billie Maxwell, "The Cow Girl Singer," may have been the first to record in this genre. (Cf Coltman, 1978:164).

3In the Summer of 1990, Patsy visited Murfreesboro and appeared as a surprise guest in my Elderhostel class on country music. She delighted us with a rendition of "I Wanna Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" and graciously consented to an interview. Some of the material in this section is drawn from that interview. BSA

4Female performers are only beginning to compete in the songwriting arena and lag woefully behind in the music publishing business. They have made great strides, however, in the area of artist management.

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