Essential Viewing: Women of Country Special

CBS has a tendency to pull clips from this show down as soon as they’re up, so I highly recommend watching it now: the 1993 Women of Country documentary. It traces the history of women in country from the early days all the way through 1992. When it first aired, it was my crash course in the history of the genre, along with a celebration featuring female artists that all rank among my favorites.

The live performances are fantastic. Nearly every major female artist of that time performs: Suzy Bogguss, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Lorrie Morgan, Pam Tillis, Tanya Tucker. Michelle Wright, Wynonna and Trisha Yearwood. There are also performances from legends Emmylou Harris and Tammy Wynette, and an all-star finale.

However, the real reason to watch is to see the story of women in country music told by those who lived it, including some who are no longer with us today, like Wynette, June Carter Cash, Rose Maddox, Patsy Montana. The vintage clips of Minnie Pearl, Patsy Cline and others are priceless.

For me, the most powerful moment is Jeannie C. Riley’s heartbreaking story of the beautiful layered dress that she had bought to wear to the 1968 CMA awards, where she would win Single of the Year for “Harper Valley P.T.A.” When she went to pick up her dress, it had been butchered into a miniskirt at the direction of her producer. Even 25 years later, she still remembers the humiliation. It’s really the perfect metaphor for how women had no control over their careers through most of the genre’s history. That’s in Part 10, at the 1:50 mark.

Here’s a list of all the videos. If you’re at all interested in country music’s past, it’s essential viewing.

Part 1: Introduction; performance of by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Part 2: Spirit of the Mountains; performance by Emmylou Harris.

Part 3: Heartsongs; performance by Trisha Yearwood.

Part 4: Cowgirls in a Man’s World; performance by Suzy Bogguss.

Part 5: Honky Tonk Angels; performance by Pam Tillis.

Part 6: Rockabilly; performance by Tanya Tucker.

Part 7: The Nashville Sound; performance by Lorrie Morgan.

Part 8: The Folk Revival; performance by Kathy Mattea.

Part 9: Heroines; performance by Tammy Wynette.

Part 10: Women Ascending; performance by Michelle Wright.

Part 11: New Country; performance by Patty Loveless.

Part 12: 80’s Ladies; performance by Wynonna.

Part 13: The Future: all-star finale.

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11 Responses to Essential Viewing: Women of Country Special

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  2. J.T.

    This is a great great special.

    It was actually released on DVD in the UK for a short while a few years ago and I was lucky enough to get it then. It’s great to have the entire special together on one disc–I believe when it was released on VHS here in the States for some dumb reason it was divided up on 2 separate tapes. It is a must see for anyone who loves country music though

    Bit off topic…but there was another special around this time that I would love to see again. The only thing I remember is a round-table discussion with some of the top ladies of country music, and Tanya Tucker is there. She is talking about the huge deal it was for her when she recorded “Would You Lay With Me in a Field of Stone” and all the controversy. She then starts to sing the song acapella–it was an amazing moment.

  3. I would love to see that, J.T. TNN had a special like this too, I think, and I know PBS ran one that emphasized Kathy Mattea’s role, so it must’ve been in the early 90’s as well. Really though, the way to go is “Finding Her Voice”, the Bulwack/Oermann book, which covers women in country through the year 2000. I think the earlier edition (1992) played a role in the CBS documentary being created.

    Regarding Tucker, she’s one of the most distinctive and captivating female singers in the genre’s history. Capitol has done a good job of making most of her albums available digitally, but Sony needs to get on the ball and do the same. I’d love to hear some of those 70’s records!

  4. KimNo Gravatar

    I watched this special when it first aired and still remember it. I had just started listening to country music. The “new” female artists at that time were fantastically talented. They’re still making music, but radio doesn’t play them for the most part. Such a shame.

  5. michaelNo Gravatar

    Where can i get a copy of this DVD? i’ve looked everywhere :(
    please email me if you can help

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  7. BNo Gravatar

    I second Michael’s question above… Does anyone know how get a hold of this DVD? Or VHS for that matter?

  8. I would love to get a copy of the DVD of the 1993 Women Of Country. Could you please send me inormation of how I can order this request. It really did the women of country music justice and should be more of these programs in the future. Thanks

  9. LindaNo Gravatar

    1995 pbs special mary chapin carpenter – women in country – can you tell me where to get a copy of the dvd – tried everywhere – thanks

  10. aloysNo Gravatar

    Linda , did you find that dvd 1995 pbs ?
    I’m still looking for it.Thanks for your answer , aloys.

  11. JohnNo Gravatar

    Yeah, so crazy that no one can get this. I even tried looking for a torrent but no luck. I know this reply is 5 years late but still can’t find it. Starting to think it’s a conspiracy.