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
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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, who are interested in the study of popular culture because of the light they shed upon the social structure of the southern region and the roles and values which emerged within it and supported it.
In 1988, the Center for the Study of Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University, under the direction of Dr. Paul Wells, sponsored a symposium on