The changing role of women in country music

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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?