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The Women of Country Music: A Reader
edited by Charles K. Wolfe and James E. Akenson
University Press of Kentucky, 2003
Hardcover, $28.00 (240 pages)
ISBN: 0-8131-2280-5
 
 

Along my career path, I was a country music programmer for a small market FM station.  I remember getting in trouble with the station manager for airing more that two female records within the rotation (an hour of airplay). During my mid-morning shift with tons of female listeners, I found ways around the rule -- group (The Judds), Top Ten (Reba McEntire), Classic (Pasty Cline), and finally the two female singles in the normal rotation -- for a total of five female recordings.

A decade after the first study of women in country music by Mary Bufwack and Robert Oermann, Finding Her Voice: The Saga of Women in Country Music, Charles Wolfe and James Akenson in this collection of articles expand the research to international influence, crossovers in music genre, and women with edge.

Patsy Montana was the first million-selling female singer, but Polly Jenkins was the first woman to headline a country music act on the vaudeville circuit. Wayne W. Daniel in "Polly Jenkins and Her Musical Plowboys," examines New Yorker Polly Jenkins, who used novelty instruments -- a hay rake, musical hat rack, cow bells and musical funnels-- in her act.  Polly Jenkins and the Plowboys appeared in Gene Autry's film "The Man from Music Mountain." She was also a popular entertainer the during World War II USO tours.

Roba Stanley, a 15 year-old Georgia girl, was country music's first woman recording star. As women were getting the vote, Roba had a hit with a strong feminist song called, "Single Life." Her career only lasted about ten months, because she married a young man from Miami who didn't want his wife to perform in public. His gain. Country music's lost.

I loved Ida Lee Nagger, that sassy gap-tooth woman at her ironing board on Hee Haw. The gap-tooth was real, but it belonged to the first lady of banjo, Roni Stoneman. Like the Carter Family, the Stoneman Family roots in country music run deep. Among the antedotes Ellen Wright shares in her article, Roni Stoneman was effected by the industry blackball of Hee Haw performers after the show was cancelled. Roni's spirit and skills with people helped her carry on. She called on those traits when she cooled international tempers in Belgium by putting a flower in her teeth and dancing the tango with a handsome Sardinian. Laughter cures all.

Rebecca Thomas in "The Cow That's Ugly has the Sweetest Milk" examines the walls in southern culture that stood in the way of female singers breaking into country music and blues. She looks are southern traditions, race issues, and cultural differences within the region.

Other female artists covered include: Emmylou Harris, Rose Lee Maphis, Margaret Lewis Warwick, Faith Hill, Lily Mae Ledford, and the Texana Dames. International performers from Canada and Australia added there own influence to the music genre.

"Teaching about Women in Country Music" by James Akenson is the final article in the book.  Akenson shows how the curriculum is appropriate for all grade levels and works in various subject areas.

Charles K. Wolfe, professor of English and folklore at Middle Tennessee State University, is the author of numerous books on music. James E. Akenson, professor of curriculum and instruction at Tennessee Technological University, is the founder of the International Country Music Conference. Together they have edited three volumes of the Country Music Annual.

 

Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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