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Pretty Good for a Girl

Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 528
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  • Book Info
    Pretty Good for a Girl
    Book Description:

    The first book devoted entirely to women in bluegrass, Pretty Good for a Girl documents the lives of more than seventy women whose vibrant contributions to the development of bluegrass have been, for the most part, overlooked. Accessibly written and organized by decade, the book begins with Sally Ann Forrester, who played accordion and sang with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys from 1943 to 1946, and continues into the present with artists such as Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, and the Dixie Chicks. Drawing from extensive interviews, well-known banjoist Murphy Hicks Henry gives voice to women performers and innovators throughout bluegrass's history, including such pioneers as Bessie Lee Mauldin, Wilma Lee Cooper, and Roni and Donna Stoneman; family bands including the Lewises, Whites, and McLains; and later pathbreaking performers such as the Buffalo Gals and other all-girl bands, Laurie Lewis, Lynn Morris, Missy Raines, and many others.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09588-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Music, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    This book has had a long gestation period. In fact you might say I’ve been preparing to write it all my life, since I am both a woman and a banjo player. That combination has always been fraught with some amount of tension, which occasionally found voice in my Banjo NewsLetter column. The second article I wrote, in 1983, was titled “For Girls Only” and contained the sage advice, “And finally, ignore all Slack-Jawed Bimbos who have the audacity to try to strike up a conversation with the comment, ‘You’re pretty good for a girl.’” When you hear that often...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 9-12)

      Bluegrass music has many “starting” dates, depending on whom you talk to. However, a significant number of historians cite 1945 as the year it all began, because that was the year Earl Scruggs and his fancy five-string banjo joined the Blue Grass Boys, bringing him together with Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt, the classic “big three” of bluegrass. What most people don’t realize or find significant is that this first pairing of Lester, Bill, and Earl included a woman, Sally Ann Forrester, on accordion.

      Bluegrass music also has myriad definitions, and heated, all-night discussions can be launched with the simple...

      (pp. 13-19)

      Sally Ann Forrester (b. 1922) occupies a special place in the annals of bluegrass history. Because she played with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys from 1943 to 1946, she is, by definition, the first woman in bluegrass, the original bluegrass girl. She and her accordion were in the band where bluegrass originated before the term “bluegrass” had even been coined. She played—and sang—on Monroe’s 1945 Columbia recordings, which included “Footprints in the Snow,” “Kentucky Waltz,” “True Life Blues,” and “Rocky Road Blues,” bluegrass standards all.

      Sally Ann was part of Monroe’s band when he was still...

      (pp. 20-27)

      Often when first-generation women in bluegrass are asked if they recall seeing any other female players, their answer is no. However, many quickly add, “Of course, there was Wilma Lee.” Indeed there was. In the world of hillbilly music, before country and bluegrass became separate genres, Wilma Lee Cooper was out there pounding the road and making records with her husband, Stoney, as Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper and the Clinch Mountain Clan. Their music started out “hillbilly” in 1947 with the strong sound of the resonator guitar (Dobro), included a not-always-prominent banjo in the early 1950s, and became more...

      (pp. 28-34)

      Rose Maddox, the powerful lead singer for America’s “most colorful hillbilly band,” the Maddox Brothers and Rose, was playing rockabilly music before the term was even invented. As her biographer, Jonny Whiteside, notes, “She exploded the previously inconsequential role of the ‘girl singer’ in country music, established herself as one of country music’s first national female stars, and set the tone for every woman who followed her.” After parting ways with her brothers, Rose went on to have a successful solo career, putting a number of songs in Billboard’s top ten country singles. Then toward the end of her life...

      (pp. 35-40)

      “I’m a hillbilly and I sing hillbilly music,” declared Ola Belle Campbell Reed, singer, songwriter, guitarist, clawhammer banjo player, and National Heritage Award winner. And this remained the gospel truth even after Alex and Ola Belle and the New River Boys and Girls took on a bluegrass-style banjo player in the mid-fifties.

      She could have just as easily pronounced herself a folk artist, for in her unpublished autobiography she says, “All my life I knew the folk field existed and that someday … I’d be part of it.” In fact, the music she is best known for today is found...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 41-45)

      As bluegrass enters its second decade, the list of visible women has grown longer. Some musicians such as Bessie Lee Mauldin and the Stoneman sisters played out their careers on the national stage. Grace French, however, stayed primarily in the New England area, as did Vallie Cain in the Washington, D.C., metropolis. The Sullivan Family and the Lewis Family started out as regional groups but over the years found that their audiences stretched far beyond the boundaries of the South.

      As did their predecessors, many of these women had some experience playing hillbilly music before they ventured into bluegrass, although...

      (pp. 46-53)

      Bessie Lee Mauldin (1920–1983), the bass player for Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys from 1952 until 1964, was also Bill’s girlfriend—or, as he called her in song, his “sweetheart.” Richard D. Smith, Monroe’s biographer, calls Bessie Lee “the great love” of Monroe’s life. The fact that Bill was still married to his wife, Carolyn, for much of Bessie Lee’s tenure made things tricky but ultimately workable. Many people who saw Bessie Lee and Bill together assumed they were married, and Bessie Lee has said that Monroe often introduced her as his wife. Ralph Rinzler’s pivotal 1963...

      (pp. 54-58)

      When banjo player Johnnie Whisnant left the house to play his first gig with Vallie and Benny Cain in October 1962, he told his wife, “I may be back in a few minutes ’ cause I just happened to think, they’s a woman playin’ that guitar and it’ll probably be some helluva mess.” But when Johnnie arrived, he found out “there wasn’t nothin’ wrong” with Vallie’s guitar playing. It was so good, in fact, that he played with Benny and Vallie for the next ten years; so good that Johnnie would ask Vallie to play rhythm guitar on a single...

      (pp. 59-62)

      In 2002 Bluegrass Unlimited magazine featured an article titled “Bob and Grace French: Pioneers of Bluegrass Music in New England.” The piece was a retrospective of their long career. But in spite of the article’s title and the accompanying photographs, all of which feature Grace, the piece focuses primarily on Bob and often refers to “his band” and “his home.” It includes no quotes from Grace. According to Grace, when Bob saw the final draft of the story, he called the author and said “he was tired of hearing only about himself. I was the other half, not only of...

    • THE LEWIS FAMILY: Miggie, Polly, Janis
      (pp. 63-68)

      One might say that the Lewis Family, from Lincolnton, Georgia, had its genesis late one night in 1925 when twenty-year-old Roy Lewis (not yet known as Pop) and fifteen-year-old Pauline Holloway (not yet known as Mom) eloped, using the clichéd ladder-up-to-the-second-story-window ploy. All of the children from this union except Mosely, who died at age four, would go on to play in the family gospel group: Miggie (b. 1926), Wallace, Esley, Talmadge, Polly (b. 1937), Janis (b. 1939), and Little Roy. Mom and Pop stayed married for seventy-seven years until Mom’s death in 2003 at ninety-two. Pop died a year...

    • THE STONEMANS: Patsy, Donna, Roni
      (pp. 69-83)

      The Stonemans—Patsy (b. 1925), Donna (b. 1934), and Roni (b. 1938)—occupy an important place in the history of women in bluegrass. Roni, whom many people know from the television show Hee Haw, was the first woman to play Scruggs-style banjo on an LP, in 1957. That same year Donna became the first woman to play bluegrass mandolin, on a single she cut with her brother Scott’s band, the Bluegrass Champs, which also included their brother Jimmy. Peggy Brain, married to Jimmy at the time, also appeared on that recording, making her the first woman to record bluegrass Dobro....

      (pp. 84-92)

      Women in bluegrass often wear many hats—wife, mother, booking agent, chief cook and bottle washer, wardrobe consultant, emcee, bus driver, merchandise manager—but Pentecostal preacher is not usually one of them. Unless you are Margie Sullivan (b. 1933), who took her guitar and went on the road with a female evangelist when she was only thirteen. She’s been on the road preaching, praying, and singing ever since.

      Born in the northeast corner of Louisiana, near Winnsboro, Margie Brewster was the sixth of twelve children in a sharecropping family. “My dad played guitar, three-finger style. I learned to sing before...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 93-95)

      By the 1960s growing numbers of women, often from solid middle-class backgrounds, were finding their way into the bluegrass fold. For the first time college-educated women like Vivian Williams, Alice Gerrard, and Ginger Boatwright were turning their musical talents from pop, folk, and classical to bluegrass. Although most women were still being nudged toward bluegrass by husbands, fathers, or boyfriends, others such as Martha Adcock, Wendy Thatcher, Gloria Belle, and Bettie Buckland were driven solely by their own inner fires. On hearing her first Carter Family album, Martha Adcock said, “It was like manna from heaven.”

      Although women had been...

      (pp. 96-99)

      Jeanie West. The first woman to have solo billing on the cover of a bluegrass album. The title of the LP even bears her name: Roamin’ the Blue Ridge with Jeanie West (Prestige, 1960). Yet that recording is so little known that for years the 1962 disc Rose Maddox Sings Bluegrass was considered to be the first bluegrass album recorded by a woman. And while Rose did not play an instrument on her project, Jeanie carried the rhythm guitar playing throughout her entire album. How could Jeanie West have gone unheralded for so long? There are several probable reasons: Prestige...

      (pp. 100-103)

      One of the earliest women to take up the Scruggs-style banjo was Betty Amos (b. 1934), who grew up near Roanoke, Virginia. Although photographed holding a five-string for a promotional shot when she was with the Carlisles in 1953, she maintains that she didn’t play banjo professionally until she teamed up with Judy and Jean in 1960. Her first recordings with the instrument were made in 1964. Her introduction to three-finger picking began at age thirteen when her brother Ed “showed me the roll.” (Ed would go on to play banjo with the Bailey Brothers and Mac Wiseman.) Not wanting...

      (pp. 104-112)

      Gloria Belle is best known to bluegrass lovers for the years she spent playing bass, guitar, and mandolin with the legendary Jimmy Martin and His Sunny Mountain Boys. She went to work with Jimmy full-time in March 1969 and played off and on with him until 1978. She sang on a number of his albums, and her high baritone on his classic recording “Milwaukee, Here I Come” is instantly recognizable. But Gloria Belle was an established professional musician years before she became a Sunny Mountain Boy.

      Gloria Belle’s musical journey has been markedly different from that of her peers. Most...

      (pp. 113-134)

      Hazel Dickens. Alice Gerrard. Hazel and Alice. Alice and Hazel. The legendary duo whose four groundbreaking albums proclaimed the revolutionary idea that two women could sing bluegrass with the same passion and intensity as men. The two composers who proved that women could write powerful bluegrass numbers based on their own personal experiences. The pioneering duet whose first Rounder album inspired the country music careers of Naomi and Wynonna Judd. Hazel and Alice. Like Simon and Garfunkel, their names are forever bound.

      Of course their partnership inevitably unraveled. Thankfully, each woman, strong enough to bend, went on to have a...

      (pp. 135-137)

      In February 1968 Dottie Cullison Eyler (b. 1931) became the first woman to be pictured in a band in the not yet two-year-old Bluegrass Unlimited. The fact that the group, the Carroll County Ramblers, and the magazine were both based in Maryland, was undoubtedly a factor. The dark-haired young woman, holding her guitar in the center of the photo, is surrounded by four men including her mandolin-playing husband, Leroy. The couple, each from the Baltimore area, had been playing hillbilly music together since forming the Covered Wagon Gang in 1954, but by 1961 they had decided to devote their musical...

      (pp. 138-142)

      Fiddler Vivian Tomlinson Williams (b. 1938), from Seattle, has a well-deserved reputation as one of the top fiddlers in the Northwest. She has competed at the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest in Weiser, Idaho, for over thirty years, where she was named the National Ladies Champion for the years 1966 to 1968. She has also placed in the top ten in the general division. Bandleader Del McCoury is well aware of her prowess on fiddle. When the Del McCoury Band toured near Seattle in the 1990s, Del made sure that his fiddler Jason Carter—then three-time IBMA Fiddle Player of the...

      (pp. 143-145)

      Except for family and friends, few people today know much about Bettie Buckland (1933–1968) from Rome, New York. Yet along with Roni Stoneman, Betty Amos, and Gloria Belle, Bettie Buckland was one of the earliest women to take up the banjo professionally, as she did in 1962. She was also one of the first women to lead her own band, the Moonlighters. After getting the group off the ground, however, she found herself having to make the excruciating choice between band and family, and she chose family. Perhaps after her four children were grown, Bettie might have chosen to...

      (pp. 146-149)

      When Rubye Davis (1937–2002) was interviewed for the Women in Bluegrass newsletter in April 2002, she was undergoing chemotherapy for the lung cancer that would take her life four months later. She could barely talk. Yet she did talk. Perhaps with Death hovering nigh, she felt emboldened to tell her story. Surely she would not have spoken so freely if Hubert, her husband and musical partner, had not died a decade earlier. “We was in business a long time … But just about everywhere we went we’d see people who’d say, ‘I know you.’ And it was always, ‘You’re...

      (pp. 150-156)

      Alabama’s Ginger Hammond Boatwright (b. 1944) has been making a lasting impression on women in bluegrass for years. The redoubtable Claire Lynch, also from Alabama, says, “Ginger was the first gal I saw on stage in a bluegrass band who sparkled so bright that I couldn’t turn away. She had charisma, humor, savvy, timing, and a pretty voice. She and her cohort Dave Sebolt showed us comedic timing, stage dignity, and interesting songs done in a bluegrass setting. She was beautiful to me and whether I knew it at the time or not she was my mentor.”

      Ginger grew up...

    • THE WHITES: Pat, Sharon, Cheryl, Rosie
      (pp. 157-160)

      Stars of the Grand Ole Opry, backup singers for Emmylou Harris, top ten Billboard artists, and featured performers in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? Sharon and Cheryl White were part of the new wave of young women who were beginning to grace bluegrass stages everywhere. Yet they performed, and continue to perform, in the most traditional of formats—the family band—with their father, Buck, and early on their mother, Pat.

      Texas-born sisters Sharon (b. 1953) and Cheryl White (b. 1955) grew up around Wichita Falls with their father holding down two jobs: plumber by day, piano and...

      (pp. 161-167)

      Wendy Thatcher was not supposed to be the guitar player and lead singer in the nascent newgrass band IInd Generation. Tony Rice was slated for that honor. She was going to be the booking agent. It was only when Tony took a job with someone else and Eddie Adcock and Jimmy Gaudreau couldn’t find another man to fill his shoes that Wendy was allowed to step in. As she says, “I was not a professional. And I was a girl. How were they gonna be accepted?”

      Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in nearby Arlington, Virginia, Jan Erin “Wendy” Thatcher...

      (pp. 168-174)

      Of the many couples who began playing bluegrass together in the early seventies, Martha and Eddie Adock stand out as a team who has hung in there not only as wife and husband but also as a musical unit that still hits the road regularly, often as a duo. In December 2007, after nearly thirty-five years of making music together, the pair toured Japan for the first time, with bass player Tom Gray, playing to sold-out houses everywhere. How have they managed to stay together—and play together—when so many other couples have either split or retired from the...

    • THE McLAIN FAMILY: Alice, Ruth, Nancy Ann
      (pp. 175-180)

      Barely old enough to be called women, Alice and Ruth McLain (b. 1956 and 1958), found themselves smack-dab on the cover of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine in October 1972, playing mandolin and bass, respectively, and wearing matching jumpers and headbands that their mother, Betty, had made. They were in the company of their brother Raymond W. (b. 1953), on banjo, and father, Raymond K., on guitar, both wearing jackets of the same boldly striped material. And thus was the bluegrass world at large introduced to the McLain Family Band, from Hindman, Kentucky. Fresh-faced and smiling, the group was the picture of...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 181-185)

      As the seventies rolled around, women seemed, almost magically, to be more visible on the bluegrass scene. Describing this change dramatically in Finding Her Voice, Mary Bufwack and Robert Oermann write, “Suddenly, as if from nowhere, there were women fiddlers, singers, banjo pickers, guitarists, and bandleaders at bluegrass festivals, on bluegrass albums, and in bluegrass clubs.”

      Perhaps women were more visible because many were now stepping forward as instrumentalists, thereby assuming a flashier, more noticeable role in the band. Players like Laurie Lewis on fiddle, Lynn Morris on banjo, Sally Van Meter on Dobro, and a young Rhonda Vincent on...

      (pp. 186-191)

      Beck Gentry wanted to be a nurse. She started early by practicing on her dolls, amputating arms and legs and cutting off hair to perform brain surgery. But there was also the music. Beck’s instrument of choice, after youthful accomplishments on piano and guitar, was the mandolin. In 1970, when she joined the all-male Ohio River Valley Boys, there were precious few women playing mandolin in working bluegrass bands. There weren’t many more when Beck and her then-husband, Roy Gentry, formed the Falls City Ramblers in 1972. It was a wild ride until 1981, when Beck decided that her nursing...

      (pp. 192-201)

      It really is all about her voice. The voice of Suzanne Thomas, the voice that Jon Hartley Fox calls “the missing link between Molly O’Day and Alison Krauss.” Sure, she was one of the earliest women to play lead mandolin on record, one of the earliest female lead guitar players, and one of the few women to have lengthy careers in two nationally known bands, the Hotmud Family (1970–1984) and the Dry Branch Fire Squad (1990–1999). But it is her voice that, like Windsong perfume, stays on your mind. Reviewer John Roemer, who is not a fan of...

      (pp. 202-206)

      In the world of bluegrass, where first names such as Gloria Belle, Maybelle, Lulu Belle, and Ola Belle abound, it is surprising to learn that Texas-born Delia Nowell (b. ca. 1935) acquired her last name when she married Bobby Bell. And in the small musical community that is bluegrass, it is perhaps not surprising that Bill Grant, Delia’s singing partner for forty-seven years, was a childhood friend of Bobby’s.

      Delia began harmonizing with Bill Grant when they met at a jam session at his mother-in-law’s house in 1959. Since 1972 they have recorded more than twenty-five albums. Their partnership—in...

      (pp. 207-215)

      By the 1970s one of the ways that women had found to make a space for themselves in the world of bluegrass was by forming all-female groups or, as they were known back then, all-girl bands. The best known, and possibly the earliest, was New York’s Buffalo Gals, then called Buffalo Chips, who were playing as a five-piece band by December 1972. The prime mover behind the group was banjo player Susie Monick, who was with them from their start at Syracuse University through their 1979 finish in Nashville. After playing locally for a couple of years, these aggressive Yankee...

      (pp. 216-220)

      Thirty-five-year-old Betty Fisher was happily married and living in South Carolina with three young children and a hardworking husband when in 1971 she decided to resurrect a musical career that had lain dormant for seventeen years. Why? Two words: Bill Monroe.

      In July of that year, Betty had attended her first-ever bluegrass festival in Lavonia, Georgia, where she had been astounded to see some of the musicians she had known while performing with her father as Betty and Buck at the Carolina Barn Dance. These bluegrass stars—Bill Monroe, Don Reno, Joe Stuart, Mac Wiseman—made a tremendous fuss over...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
      (pp. 221-228)

      Katie Laur (b. 1944), one of the first women in bluegrass to lead her own all-male band, the Katie Laur Band, was in a slight snit. Writing in the Women in Bluegrass newsletter, she said:

      I had no notion of being the first woman front-person for a bluegrass band, just as I had no notion that other women weren’t doing it. As the years passed I sometimes grew sentimental with the idea of perhaps being the first woman who fronted a non-gospel bluegrass band—can you think of any more qualifiers—but Jeff Roberts [her banjo player] would always remind...

      (pp. 229-232)

      Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is not one of the first places that comes to mind when you think of bluegrass. But in the early seventies, Dede Wyland (b. 1950), who was quietly attending the University of Wisconsin, had the foundations of her world shaken by the Monroe Doctrine, a young bluegrass band that was playing at a café there. It was, she says, a “life-changing experience.” Only shortly before that she had gone to the 1970 Philadelphia Folk Festival, where she had seen Bill Monroe perform. “I’d never heard anything quite like it.”

      Dede was not unfamiliar with music. She had taken...

      (pp. 233-240)

      When Lynn Morris (b. 1948) recorded her song “Help Me Climb That Mountain” in 1990, she had no idea how prescient it would turn out to be. To be sure, as a woman in bluegrass Lynn had already had many mountains to climb. One of only three women profiled in Masters of the 5-String Banjo (1988), Lynn still found it impossible to land a job as a banjo player in a top-notch, all-male band in 1987. Finding that path blocked led to the formation of the Lynn Morris Band in 1988. Leading her own band entailed a hard but steady...

      (pp. 241-249)

      According to many women who live there, bluegrass in California was different from the beginning. Kathy Barwick, who played Dobro with the All Girl Boys, says, “You betcha it’s different! I think because there was little or no established (entrenched?) tradition of bluegrass in California, women didn’t need as much to ‘break in’ to something … the bluegrass tradition was built by men and women together … The Phantoms of the Opry and the Good Ol’ Persons really set a standard for women in bluegrass in the Bay Area: this is something women do—and on an equal footing with...

      (pp. 250-259)

      Laurie Lewis (b. 1950) is a woman of many talents: singer, fiddler, guitarist, bass player, bandleader, performer, arranger, producer, and teacher. But perhaps her greatest gift is her extraordinarily expressive songwriting. She has a “love affair with the sounds of words together.” Her compositions range from ballads to bluegrass, from old-time to torch, from Tex-Mex to calypso, from acoustic funk to heartbreaking country. Her passion, intensity, and willingness to pour every ounce of herself into her singing is reminiscent of none other than one of her own idols, Hazel Dickens. And Laurie does it with seemingly flawless technique and control....

      (pp. 260-268)

      She was a nice Jewish girl living near Chicago. Her mother was a folksinger; her father, a mathematician by trade, played classical guitar. Both parents were exploring roads less traveled. But Kathy Kallick (b. 1952) took “less traveled” into another dimension when she moved to California to become a bluegrass singer, songwriter, and bandleader, a career she has pursued for over thirty years and that shows no signs of stopping.

      Born in the Windy City, Kathy grew up in nearby Evanston, Illinois, wanting to be a folksinger like her mom. Dodi had helped establish the coffeehouse scene in Chicago in...

      (pp. 269-274)

      Claire Lynch (b. 1954) is articulate about the role of music in her life. “I live for the music,” she says. “I burn for it in my soul.” Yet for years this mother of two also felt “I can’t let my soul go. I have to control it.” Time and time again she has chosen family above music, only to find she can’t keep the music out. Slowly it comes creeping back in—the jobs appear, the road beckons. So she ventures out, but inevitably commitment to family pulls her back. The classic bluegrass song that appears on her New...

      (pp. 275-280)

      Although the seventies were beginning to break wide open for women in bluegrass, their roles as musicians were still often confined to all-female groups or bands that included family or partners. Banjo player Lee Lenker (1955–2008) was an exception. From 1976 until 1982 she played banjo in the Buffalo Chipkickers, an otherwise all-male band based in State College, Pennsylvania. None of these men were related to her, and before she joined the group she hadn’t known any of them. In the annals of bluegrass music the Chipkickers are not well known, primarily because they played the college circuit rather...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 281-283)

      As the 1980s rolled around, a number of women who had begun playing in the seventies were beginning to change the face of bluegrass by assuming the leadership role in their own bands. Although there had been a few other female bandleaders in the past, the time was apparently right for this new trend to take hold. The big three were Laurie Lewis, who put her name out front with Grant Street in 1986; Lynn Morris, who started her own band in 1988; and Kathy Kallick, who had been the de facto leader of the Good Ol’ Persons since the...

      (pp. 284-292)

      Even as a child in Short Gap, West Virginia, Melissa Kay “Missy” Raines (b. 1962) wanted to be a bluegrass musician. By following her heart, she has carved out a successful career for herself. Seven times her peers have voted her IBMA Bass Player of the Year.

      Her memories of seeing the Buffalo Gals set the tone for her life’s story:

      Most of my early role models were men, and as a very young girl, I spent hours in front of the living room mirror with my guitar, singing into a dust mop and pretending to be Mac Wiseman. While...

      (pp. 293-303)

      Maybe Alison’s parents wouldn’t have minded so much if they had known that their daughter would be named Banjo Player of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association in 1991, the first woman to win that award. And maybe they would have breathed easier if they had known that their daughter would go on to found Compass Records, finding a way to use that MBA from UCLA. In short, Alison has done all right as a banjo player. She is also a Harvard graduate with a BA in history and literature, a former investment banker, and a mother of...

      (pp. 304-315)

      For the roughly twenty-five years that they existed in some number, from 1972 to 1996, all-female bands, or “all-girl” bands as they are usually called, served an extremely important function. For females who were not part of a family group or partnered with a male musician, they became a way to break into the business, providing access to festival stages and an opportunity to play at a professional level. And for young women, as for young men, playing in a road band with your peers offered fun, excitement, and camaraderie. Trying to maintain an all-estrogen lineup, however, often proved to...

      (pp. 316-330)

      Alison Krauss (b. 1971) has been called “the biggest thing to happen to bluegrass since Flatt and Scruggs.” She has won more Grammys—twenty-six in all—than any other female artist. She has recorded with Sting, James Taylor, and Robert Plant, with Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, and Ralph Stanley. She signed with Rounder Records when she was fourteen and has released more than a dozen Rounder albums, which now routinely sell millions. Her combined sales are greater than those of any other bluegrass act. Her voice can be heard on numerous movie soundtracks from Midnight in the Garden of Good...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 331-336)

      Now that the doors had been opened (or pried apart some might say), the 1990s and beyond saw more and more women—both the young and the seasoned—leading their own bands. The most prominent, of course, was Alison Krauss, who began her long string of Grammy wins in 1990. Alison’s rampant success acted as a bulldozer, widening the opportunities for the women who followed in her wake.

      A decade later Rhonda Vincent moved into national prominence with her first Rounder album while newcomer Sierra Hull’s own Rounder debut in 2008 propelled her to four IBMA Mandolin Player of the...

      (pp. 337-345)

      September 1, 1995, was a memorable day in the life of banjo player Kristin Scott. A sophomore at Nashville’s Belmont University, she was missing the start of classes to play her first gig with the Larry Stephenson Band at a bluegrass festival in Maine. It was also a milestone, albeit unnoticed, for women in bluegrass. This was the first time a female banjo player who was unconnected in any way with the players in an otherwise all-male band had joined a well-established, nationally known bluegrass band as a side musician. Kristin was neither mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, in-law,...

      (pp. 346-360)

      When Rhonda Vincent’s two-page Bluegrass Unlimited ad for her Ragin’ Live Tour appeared in March 2005, showing her in a sleeveless black dress with a plunging neckline, several enraged subscribers canceled their subscriptions. To them, there was no place in bluegrass music for cleavage. But Rhonda is charting her own course in bluegrass couture and remains undeterred and unrepentant. For every grandparent who cancels a subscription, another brings a granddaughter to one of her shows and says to Rhonda, “My granddaughter’s got a favorite song and can’t wait to see what you’re gonna wear.” Rhonda is trying to walk that...

      (pp. 361-373)

      Dixie Chicks. Superstars. Winners of twelve Grammy Awards. Ninth on the list of top-selling women artists in any genre, with over thirty million albums sold. In the country field only Reba McEntire and Shania Twain have done better. These three talented women—Emily Robison, Martie Maguire, and Natalie Maines—are glamorous, outspoken, controversial, fiercely independent, and business-minded. After the wild success of their first two Sony albums, they boldly sued the record company for a bigger slice of the pie and won their own label imprint, Open Wide Records. Furthermore, as No Depression magazine says, “Their daring and success have...

    • CHERRYHOLMES Sandy, Cia, Molly
      (pp. 374-380)

      The family made the cover of Bluegrass Unlimited in May 2005, a mere six years after they started performing. At the center of the photo, three closely aligned youthful women with instruments look straight into the camera: sisters Cia and Molly, and mother, Sandy. To the left are two handsome young men with guitar and fiddle: brothers B. J. and Skip. On the far right, an anomaly: an older man with a long white beard wearing a baseball cap and overalls paired with a sleeveless muscle shirt that reveals a large tattoo on his hefty bicep. Father, Jere, bandleader and...

  11. CONCLUSION: Not Just Pretty Good for a Girl!
    (pp. 381-384)

    From the stories of these remarkable female musicians, we can clearly see that women have been a part of bluegrass music right from the beginning. We can also observe that their roles have broadened and changed considerably over the years. From being primarily partnered with husbands or family members and playing rhythm guitar or bass, women have stepped up to the plate on every instrument in the bluegrass field. Even a quick survey of top players reveals Sierra Hull and Rhonda Vincent on mandolin, Alison Krauss and Laurie Lewis on fiddle, Kristin Scott Benson and Cia Cherryholmes on banjo, Sally...

    (pp. 385-402)
    (pp. 403-424)
    (pp. 425-430)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 431-470)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 471-478)