100 Greatest Women, #63: Felice Bryant

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

#63

Felice Bryant

2008 Edition: #47 (-16)

With husband Boudleaux, Felice Bryant was part of the greatest songwriting team of her time, so fine at their craft that they wrote themselves into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Felice was born Matilda Genevieve Scaduto and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She grew up singing, but it was her love of writing that drove her passion for music. She met her future husband Boudleaux when he saw her performing at a Milwaukee hotel in 1945. They married soon after and moved to his home in Georgia, where they struggled to make ends meet as Boudleaux did a number of odd jobs.

Felice was bored out of her mind, so she wrote songs in her spare time, and noticed that her husband had the same talent, if not the same discipline. She pushed for him to hone his craft, and soon they were sending out songs they had composed together to country stars through the mail. They were politely but repeatedly rejected, until Little Jimmy Dickens took a shine to “Country Boy” and recorded it in 1949. It became a top ten hit, and the couple hit Music Row looking for a full-time writing job.

Of course, full-time writing jobs weren’t exactly the norm back then, but the couple was able to get a small publisher to pay them $35 a week to write songs for the company. Even though they recorded briefly on MGM as duo Bud & Betty Bryant, their heart was in the songwriting. Dickens continued to record their songs, placing both “I’m Little But I’m Loud” and “Out Behind the Barn” on the charts. They broke into the big time when Cal Smith scored two honky-tonk hits from their pens in 1953, “Just Wait Till I Get You Home” and “Hey Joe.” By 1956, they were signed to the biggest country publisher in town, Acuff-Rose.

They recorded most of their demo tapes as a duo, which would lead to their most fruitful partnership with an artist. Brother duo The Everly Brothers turned their compositions into multi-format smashes, scoring high on both the country and pop charts with “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Bird Dog”, and “Devoted to You.” Buddy Holly had a hit with “Raining in My Heart” and the couple penned what would become a State Song of Tennessee, “Rocky Top,” originally recorded by The Osborne Brothers.

Both Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris would cut “Sleepless Nights,” another tune originally done by The Everly Brothers. Lynn Anderson had a hit with “Rocky Top” and Gail Davies took on “It’s a Lovely, Lovely World,” originally cut by Carl Smith. When Felice wrote “We Could” as a gift to her husband on their anniversary, Little Jimmy Dickens and Jim Reeves recorded it and Charley Pride later made it a hit.

So wide was their impact that they won nearly 60 BMI awards in three fields: pop, country and R&B. In 1972, they were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 1986, the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Boudleaux passed away in 1987, but Felice represented both of them in 1991, when they were jointly inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Felice remained a fixture on the Nashville songwriting scene until her death in 2003. Along with her husband, she left behind a legacy that is nearly unmatched by songwriters in country music history, and a catalog that is still being revisited by contemporary artists with exceptional taste.

Essential Singles

  • Country Boy (Little Jimmy Dickens), 1949
  • Bye Bye Love (The Everly Brothers), 1957
  • Wake Up, Little Susie (The Everly Brothers), 1957
  • Rocky Top (Lynn Anderson), 1970
  • We Could (Charley Pride), 1974

Industry Awards

  • Country Music Hall of Fame, 1991
  • Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1972
  • Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1986

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

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2 Comments

  1. The Bryants, Felice and Boudleaux, wrote a ballad in which the guy winds up in jail and an uptempo song in which the girl winds up in jail. The songs were released on the same 45 rpm record. The “A” side was “Take a Message to Mary” and the “B” or flip side was “Poor Jenny”. I have the Cadence 45. It was rare that the flip side of a 45 was any good but Everly 45’s flip sides were better than most.

    the Mary song:

    “Take a message to Mary but don’t say I’m in a jam
    You can tell her I had to see the world or tell that my ship set sail
    You can say she better not wait for me but don’t tell her I’m in jail
    Oh, don’t tell her I’m in jail”

    the Jenny song:

    “Jenny has a brother and he’s hot on my trail
    Her daddy wants to ride me out of town on a rail
    I hope I’ll be around when Jenny gets out of jail
    Poor Jenny”

  2. I found the “Rain Songs” cd I made up probably over a dozen years ago. The first of 21 songs was “Raining in My Heart” by Buddy Holly (my favorite Holly Song) and the last was “Raining in My Heart” by Anne Murray. (I also have the song by Bobby Vee and Leo Sayer.) For essential singles, I would substitute “Raining in My Heart” for “Country Boy”.

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