Female Performers In Country Music Essay

4051 words - 16 pages

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. This is not to diminish the importance of the contributions made by those women who were involved in commercial country music's formative years, but to suggest that the socially scripted roles of southern white women prior to World War II may have suppressed their role in commercial music. For whatever reasons, their roles and contributions were neglected for many years. There has, in the last very few years, been a rather significant attempt to correct this deficiency and several important pieces of research on the role of female performers have emerged. Bill Malone (1985) devoted a fairly large section of his chapter on "Early Commercial Hillbilly Music" to the women who performed in the 1920s and early 1930s. Charles Wolfe and Patricia Hall were instrumental in bringing about a significant recording of several of the major early country female performers (Rounder 1029, "Banjo Pickin' Girl"). And Robert Coltman's fine piece on women in early country music (1978) stands as a major contribution toward filling the gap left by nearly 60 years of ignoring the contribution of women. These investigations, primarily by historians and folklorists, are of crucial importance to other social scientists, particularly sociologists,...

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