Archive for the ‘100 Greatest Women’ Category

100 Greatest Women, #31: Rose Maddox

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

100 Greatest Women

#31

Rose Maddox

She was only ten years old when her big brothers pulled her into their band, needing a female singer on the spot to land a regular performing gig on the radio in Modesta, California. She quickly learned as many songs as she could, and joined her brothers to form The Maddox Brothers & Rose, one of the most influential hillbilly bands of all-time.

Her family had moved to California during the Dust Bowl, and her brothers loathed the idea of manual labor for a pittance of pay. They found a dedicated audience willing to pay their bills for a few songs in return, and they toured the west coast, hopping from rodeo to rodeo and club to club, playing for nominal fees plus tips. Another act playing the same circuit was Woody Guthrie, and Rose caught his show when she was only twelve. She heard him perform “Philadelphia Lawyer,” and she helped make the song a country classic through her performances of it.

The Maddox Brothers & Rose won a California State Centennial contest in 1939 that landed them their own syndicated radio show. The act’s popularity spread beyond their California home base, and their career seemed unstoppable until national events intervened.

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100 Greatest Women, #32: Lynn Anderson

Friday, May 30th, 2008

100 Greatest Women

#32

Lynn Anderson

She was the daughter of songwriters Casey and Liz Anderson. Raised in California, she witnessed the West Coast country music scene when it was most vital. But in her early years, she was as likely to perform with a horse as she was with a microphone, winning the California Horse Show Queen title in 1966.

At that time, her mom was scoring some hits on the country charts, so daughter followed mother into the music business. She recorded for the small label Chart, and found success quickly. After scoring hits with “If I Kiss You (Will You Go Away)” and “Promises, Promises”, she was named the then-regional ACM’s Top Female Vocalist in 1968. Her album Promises, Promises went to #1, and in 1969, just missed the top spot with her single “That’s a No No.”

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100 Greatest Women, #33: Lee Ann Womack

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

100 Greatest Women

#33

Lee Ann Womack

When she released her debut album in 1997, she was widely hailed as the great hope for traditional country music, a much-needed counterpoint to the pop crossover sounds that were beginning to dominate the genre. With time, Womack would prove that she wasn’t so easy to pigeonhole.

She grew up in Texas, the daughter of a country radio disc jockey. Her dad turned her on to the sounds of classic country music and she was smitten. When the time came for college, she attended South Plains Junior College in Texas, since it was the only school she could find that offered a major in country music. She took the next logical step and moved to Nashville after that, attending Belmont University for a brief time.

While at the school, she interned at MCA Records. She was a dedicated follower of George Strait, and it was his label where she wanted to record. By the early nineties, she had settled down in Nashville with a husband and young child, while building up her songwriting catalog and putting on showcases. Tree Publishing caught a showcase, heard her demo and signed her. She scored some cuts on albums by Bill Anderson and Ricky Skaggs, but her stint as a staff writer was short-lived. Decca, an imprint of MCA, signed her to her own recording contract, and she started work on her debut album.

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100 Greatest Women, #34: Jean Shepard

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

100 Greatest Women

#34

Jean Shepard

The Grand Lady of the Grand Ole Opry.

Jean Shepard has been entertaining fans of classic country music for fifty years with her honky-tonk stylings and brass delivery. At her peak, she was the one of the strongest female forces in country music, a salty counterpoint to the timid balladeers and lush pop divas she shared the charts with.

She was originally from Oklahoma, but her family moved out west when she was a child, settling in California. She got her musical start in Bakersfield, forming The Melody Ranch Girls. The band developed a strong local following. One night, Hank Thompson caught one of their performances and was blown away. Through him, Shepard secured a record deal with Capitol. She was still a teenager when she signed with the label.

On record, Shepard turned in a honky-tonk sound that rivaled the grit of all of her male contemporaries. She had her breakthrough in 1953 with “A Dear John Letter”, a duet with Ferlin Husky that topped the charts. She followed it up with two big solo hits in 1955, “Beautiful Lies” and “A Satisfied Mind”, the latter of which was also a big hit for Porter Wagoner.

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100 Greatest Women, #35: Pam Tillis

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

100 Greatest Women

#35

Pam Tillis

She grew up the daughter of a country music icon. As a baby, she’d nap in his guitar case. But Pam Tillis resisted her musical heritage for many years before finally embracing it and producing some of the best country music of the past two decades.

Growing up in Nashville, Tillis lost interest in country music once she discovered the Beatles. She had a taste for the country-rock of the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, but felt no connection to the scene of her father, Mel Tillis. Quite the wild child in her teen years, she was nearly killed in a car crash when she was still in high school, and needed multiple reconstructive surgeries on the road to recovery.

Tillis sang backup sometimes for her dad, but she was more interested in exploring other genres of music. She moved out to San Francisco and performed at jazz clubs around the city. Her talent was soon noticed by pop labels, and in 1981 she released her first single, “Every Home Should Have One.” Around the same time, her songwriting started getting noticed, and she had cuts from pop artists like Chaka Khan and Gloria Gaynor.

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100 Greatest Women, #36: Donna Fargo

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

100 Greatest Women

#36

Donna Fargo

She was country music’s sunshine superwoman, singing sprightly love songs and positive thinking anthems. There was a sharp mind behind the big smile, as many of her biggest hits came from her own pen.

She had actually put her warm personality to use in the classroom before pursuing a music career. Though she was a native of North Carolina, she moved west to California for college. She ended up staying there, getting her degree and becoming a high school English teacher. She was already head of the department when she met Stan Silver, who’d become both her manager and husband.

She began playing clubs at night while teaching during the day, and her talent was noticed on the West Coast. She recorded for small labels and released unsuccessful singles, but the ACM, which was still emphasizing artists from the region at their awards, named her Most Promising Female Vocalist in 1970.

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100 Greatest Women, #37: K.T. Oslin

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

100 Greatest Women

#37

K.T. Oslin

There had never anyone before in country music like K.T. Oslin when she hit the scene, and there hasn’t been anyone like her since. She instantly redefined what a woman in country music could sing and write about, and by breaking through at the age of 45, she became a voice for her whole generation of women.

Her road from her native Texas to Nashville was a long and winding one. She grew up idolizing Patsy Cline, and her attention turned to folk stars like Joan Baez as she entered junior college. She studied drama while simultaneously developing her musical craft. Before the sixties ended, she had sung in a folk trio with Guy Clark and David Jones. She even worked on an LP in Los Angeles, but the sessions were never released commercially.

While doing a stint in the national touring company of Hello Dolly!, Oslin visited New York City and fell in love with it. She joined the chorus of the Broadway show, and spent the seventies doing small parts in musical theater and recording commercial jingles. She also began focusing on her songwriting, and a friend in the business told her that her songs sounded country. So in 1978, she started shopping her songs around Music City.

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100 Greatest Women, #38: LeAnn Rimes

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

100 Greatest Women

#38

LeAnn Rimes

When she burst on to the scene in 1996, she was praised as the second coming of Patsy Cline. Within two years, she was dominating the pop charts. Over the course of her twelve-year career, Rimes has been successfully straddling the fence between pop and country, leaving a mark in both genres as she builds on her already impressive catalog of hits.

All that, and she’s still in her twenties. Rimes was just thirteen when her recording of “Blue” became a nationwide phenomenon. The song had originally been written with Cline in mind, but she died before that was possible. “Blue” was recorded by a handful of artists in the three decades between Bill Mack writing it and Rimes releasing it. The combination of her classic country voice and the novelty of her age proved irresistible to record buyers, and her debut album Blue went spent more than half a year at #1, selling six million copies along the way.

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100 Greatest Women, #39: June Carter Cash

Monday, May 26th, 2008

100 Greatest Women

#39

June Carter Cash

In the shadow of a famous family and an even more famous husband, June Carter Cash has largely been known and defined as a supporting player in legacies larger than her own. But while she did choose to place her own career second to her obligations to The Carter Family and then to Johnny Cash, her work has also been important on its own.

The daughter of Maybelle Carter, she was already performing with her mother and sisters Helen and Anita at the age of ten. From the forties on, she was a primary member of Mother Maybelle & The Carter Sisters. In 1950, the group moved to Nashville and joined the Grand Ole Opry Cast. There, Carter became known for her offbeat comic personality as much as her music, though she did have a solo hit in 1956 with “Juke Box Blues.” During this period, she was married to country star Carl Smith, and together they had a daughter who would become a third generation country star, Carlene Carter.

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100 Greatest Women, #40: Minnie Pearl

Monday, May 26th, 2008

100 Greatest Women

#40

Minnie Pearl

She only had one chart hit in her whole career, a spoken-word answer song to Red Sovine’s “Giddyup Go.” But through the sheer force of her character-driven comedy, she became a country music icon all the same, one of the most instantly recognizable faces in the history of country music.

She made her name playing a simple country character, but Sarah Ophelia Colley came from money. She was the youngest of five daughters. Her father was a sawmill owner, but when the Depression hit, his business was hurt. This was just the time that Sarah was coming of age, so instead of attending college, she went to Ward-Belmont finishing school in Nashville, which would later become Belmont University. She was smitten with theater, and after graduation she joined the Sewell Company, touring the south as part of their cast.

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