Guest Post: Women In Country Music – Where Is Our Place?
Historically, women have been ignored when charting the people and events of country music’s illustrative past. This has occurred both in the story of the music and of the industry respectively, yet women have often been seen as fans near-equally to men; the bored and lonely housewife who finds solace in the country music emanating from her kitchen radio. The women who are not socially permitted to reside in the classic Honky-Tonk, unless they want to be perceived as promiscuous, good-time women. Artist-wise they were the ‘girl singer’, the ‘pretty face’, generally marketed as more country pop, for commercial gain, their ‘repressed sex appeal’ being exploited. And they did not belong in the industry, as this was far too complicated for them. This is the general collective memory of women’s contributions to country music up until the 1960s/1970s, and often it’s simply not accurate at all.
The scene was in abundance of Honky-Tonk singing women, female musicians, feisty souls who were pioneers in their field for saying what the ordinary women were desperate to speak out about. Patsy Cline has often been seen as revolutionary, but in comparison to these ladies of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, she was one of the first ladies of the Nashville Sound, designed to sell records with smooth arrangements and submissive to the patriarchal industry.
Industry-wise it has been noted that very few women worked at record labels or similar establishments; however Jo Walker was the executive director of the CMA since 1962 (soon after its inception in the late 1950s) until 1991. This is significant because this period of time was arguably the most prosperous for the CMA and for country music commercially, nationally and globally. Through extensive promotional campaigns, fundraising events and construction of the Country Music Hall Of Fame & Museum, CMA Awards, Country Music Foundation, and Fan Fair (among others), I would argue that she has been one of the most important and influential people ever to grace country music in any way, shape or form. Way to take one for the girls, huh?
But her contributions are much-documented, admittedly. However, something that is often ignored is the role of women in country music fan clubs during the 1950s. Before the genre really invested in professional PR and fan clubs, they were set up by fans, run by fans, and were a vital promotional tool for the artists. And the best part? About 95% of the people fronting and organising these were women. They would disseminate regular publications (quarterly, monthly, etc) with updates about the artist, whilst also promoting other similar artists and those new and up-and-coming. They would encourage the fans they were reaching to spread the word of country music, to phone up radio stations and request that artist’s song, and would consult with the artist themselves as a PR partnership. There would be so much work that these women, often housewives and mothers looking for a focus, a hobby, a part-time job (at the time unless financially necessary women were not expected to work; in fact it was frowned upon in some respects) would have to employ other people (again, women) to delineate jobs to, such was their role and workload in the country music industry. They would attend big annual industry events such as the Opry’s October birthday celebrations and take part in conferences involving discussion with the heads of other fan clubs round the country.
However, towards the end of the decade, the industry events where they would organise their sector of country music and meet to discuss issues shut the door abruptly on their invitation and input, while the patriarchal industry decided that these women were not really a part of it. They attempted to host their own events, but by this time country artists were finding professional PR teams to promote them and they no longer required the fan clubs, almost all of which had disappeared by the mid 1960s. Gradually, as time went on, women were allowed into various lowly industry roles, and although the situation is now better it is still highly male-fronted.
But recently I’ve noticed a new wave of ordinary women’s contributions to the industry. Blogging.
When I began my own country music blog in March of this year, I had no clue as to the state of online country journalism, in fact I didn’t even read the blogs or know about them. As I needed content for my blog in order to respond to articles with my opinion, I began finding them on Twitter and following them for my latest news. I started to realize this was a huge sector of the industry, the owners of the blogs regularly finding their way to red carpet events with their own spot to interview the artists coming by, and would often get proper sit-down interviews with the artists throughout the year. They were counted as real journalists (which of course they are, simply online) and respected by the industry. Yet what became increasingly obvious is that they were nearly all run by women, with a huge majority of those housewives and mothers looking for something to focus on in their free time. Through this I realised that women’s place of importance within the country industry had been restored somewhat and in this far more equality-focused era I believe that they will retain their position and things will only get better. It’s fantastic that this area has opened up for myself and other women and I see a much bigger future in it than is currently available. I can only see it getting bigger.
So every time you read a country blog, just remember that in the same way that buying records by female artists will benefit the industry, in reading a post like this, clicking the adverts and sharing with your friends, you are supporting the contributions of women within country music. Well done.