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The changing role of women in country music

Friday, September 19, 2008 - 01:22 PM

As I mentioned on Wednesday’s blog, country music wasn’t really my thing, at least while growing up here in the city. But I was aware that some of the better known singers were women – Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and much later on people like Shania Twain. Since I didn’t keep up with country music, it never occurred to me to wonder if women had any more or less opportunity in country music than their male counterparts. But people like writer Holly George Warren wondered, and looked into it, and as she’ll tell us today, the history of country music is one where women could play important but supporting roles, and rarely moved into the limelight. So Loretta and Dolly were the exceptions – the rule was more like Willie Nelson’s sister, Bobbie Lee Nelson, who has toured as his pianist for over 30 years but who never got a chance to do a record of her own, until now, when she’s 77.

Now this did get me wondering, about two things, actually. First – country music fans help me out here – is it true that country music has had limited roles for women to play? (And if so, is it changing?) And second, is it any different in any other genre of music? I mean, we expect to see women in folk music and pop, but hip-hop and heavy metal seem to remain stubbornly male bastions. Women composers have made great inroads in classical music, but women conductors remain a bit of a rarity. There’s a great tradition of women in jazz, but while a lot of our best-known jazz singers are women, most people would be hard-pressed to name a bandleader or even a musician who’s a woman. (Sorry jazz fans, but “most people” wouldn’t know who Carla Bley is, or Maria Schneider or Jane Ira Bloom, or even Mary Lou Williams.)

What do you think? We’re talking today specifically about women’s role in country music, but again, is it much different anywhere else along the music spectrum?


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Comments [3]


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Peace and Love Forever

Oct. 04 2008 06:20 AM

Thanks to women like Dolly, Tammy and Loretta, they broke down barriers for woman like Reba and Shania and the rest to do what they do today. I love Dolly and Tammy but Loretta in my opinion is the Queen of Country music!! She was the first female millionare,had 2 BEST SELLING biography's and a OSCAR WINNING movie. She was also the first country artist to grace newsweek and appear on national tv shows, bringing country music to town. She is what country music is all about, growing up poor little education to achieve world wide fame.

Sep. 20 2008 09:44 PM

I know that Shania is the biggest country female of alltime and took country music to a worldwide level never seen before or since.
When Shania came on the scene she did things her way outside of the nashville system, she wrote and produced her own songs with her husband. So Shania was bold and went against the system and became a global icon in pop and country.
All the new acts these days are manufactured from reality tv shows and controlled by Nashville.

But Dolly and Shania are an industry all by themselves and do what they want.

Sep. 19 2008 02:07 PM

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