100 Greatest Women, #17: Brenda Lee

June 13, 2008 // 5 Comments

100 Greatest Women #17 Brenda Lee She was the rockabilly superstar that Music City had dreamed would come along, a pioneer who made the fusion of early rock and country commercially viable. She made timeless records while still in her early teens, and matured into a mainstream country singer later in her career. Today, she is a legend to both country and rock audiences, one of the few artists who can be found in both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not bad for a poor Georgia girl who started singing professionally to help her widowed mother pay the bills. Brenda Lee was born Brenda Mae Tarpley, and she was singing from the time she could walk. As a toddler, she could hear a song twice on the radio and be able to sing it back, word for word. Even at age six, she was a Read More

100 Greatest Women, #18: Cindy Walker

June 12, 2008 // 11 Comments

100 Greatest Women #18 Cindy Walker For all intents and purposes, the story of professional female songwriters in country music begins with Cindy Walker. In an era where almost all artists and writers were men, she was a phenomenon, a prolific writer whose work was cut by the top recording artists of the forties and fifties, and whose songs were so strong that they’d be recorded over and over again in the decades that followed. She grew up in Texas, where her mother was a highly skilled pianist. Though she loved performing, and was doing so publicly from the age of seven, her greatest passion was songwriting. She dreamed of going to Los Angeles, where the western movies of her hero Bing Crosby were made. In 1941, her father had to go to L.A. on a business trip, and he invited his wife and daughter along. Cindy threw all of Read More

100 Greatest Women, #19: Dottie West

June 11, 2008 // 2 Comments

100 Greatest Women Dottie West She started out as a heartache singer who could wail a lonesome tune with the best of them. She developed into a sultry, showy stage performer. For more than two decades, her presence was felt on the country charts, but her presence was felt even more by the young new artists that she took under her wing. Dottie West grew up in rural Tennessee, the oldest of ten children. Her family was poor when she was young, so much so that they went without electricity and plumbing, and made their own soap. Her childhood would not be an easy one, as she dealt with a father who was both physically and sexually abusive to her. When she was seventeen, she reported him to the police, and he was sentenced to forty years for his crimes against her. Music had been a comfort for her while Read More

100 Greatest Women, #20: Rosanne Cash

June 10, 2008 // 10 Comments

100 Greatest Women #20 Rosanne Cash She was one of the dominant female country voices throughout the eighties, and the incisive words and music of Rosanne Cash were leagues beyond most of her contemporaries. She was also the daughter of a country music icon and legend, but her own music was so distinctively different from her father’s that one could be excused for not realizing she called Johnny Cash “Dad.” The eldest child from her father’s first marriage, Cash was raised in Nashville, where she was teased at school for her hillbilly lineage. When her parents split, she moved with her mom to southern California, where she spent a good deal of her late childhood and teenage years. She also began traveling with her father’s road show, soon after she graduated high school. A job on laundry duty eventually developed into backup singing and occasional turns in the spotlight. However, Read More

100 Greatest Women, #22: Wanda Jackson

June 8, 2008 // 5 Comments

100 Greatest Women #22 Wanda Jackson The original rockabilly queen. When Wanda Jackson heeded Elvis Presley’s advice and put some rock in her country, she shattered all conventions associated with her gender’s place in country music, injecting a raw energy into her records and live performances that still turns heads today. In the beginning, her aspirations weren’t that lofty. Her dad bought her a guitar when she was a young child, and she grew up imitating the country acts of the forties, like Spade Cooley and Tex Williams. She was just fifteen when she won a local talent contest in Oklahoma City, the prize being her own 15-minute weekly radio show. She continued to perform on the station throughout the rest of high school, and her time was doubled as her popularity grew. Hank Thompson heard her on the radio, and wanted her to join him on the road. She Read More

100 Greatest Women, #24: Connie Smith

June 7, 2008 // 12 Comments

100 Greatest Women #24 Connie Smith “There’s really only three female singers in the world: Streisand, Ronstadt and Connie Smith. The rest of us are just pretending.” – Dolly Parton Connie Smith was born in Indiana, but she grew up in West Virginia, where she first began singing publicly. She later moved to Ohio, and though she was soon a housewife and mother, she still sang in her spare time. She performed on local television shows, and when she won a talent contest in 1963, she was discovered by Bill Anderson. He quickly arranged for her to be signed to RCA Records, and wrote a song especially for her called “Once a Day.” When that record was released in the summer of 1964, she was an overnight success. The song spent an astonishing eight weeks at #1, and it still holds the record for the longest run at the top Read More

100 Greatest Women, #25: Faith Hill

June 6, 2008 // 14 Comments

100 Greatest Women #25 Faith Hill The story of Faith Hill begins in the small town of Star, Mississippi. When she was only nine years old, she saw Elvis Presley in concert and knew immediately that she wanted to be an entertainer. Thanks to her ear for a great hook and ease singing diverse styles, she has become one of the top-selling female artists in country music history. Like many singers, she began singing in church. When she was just seventeen, she fronted a country band that played in local rodeos. At nineteen, she quit college and move to Nashville to pursue her dream. When an audition to be Reba McEntire’s backup singer was unsuccessful, she sold t-shirts while looking for an industry job. She briefly married Dan Hill, an industry executive, and kept the surname after the marriage ended. She landed a job as a secretary at a publishing Read More

100 Greatest Women, #26: Martina McBride

June 5, 2008 // 19 Comments

100 Greatest Women #26 Martina McBride With a big voice and a taste for topical material, Martina McBride has been one of the most consistently successful female country acts of the past fifteen years. She reached her commercial peak when female artists were dominating the genre, but she managed to maintain her popularity when women were all but banished from country radio. She was raised in small town Kansas, and grew up singing in her family’s country band, The Schiffters. They played at local dances in the area. Once in college, she expanded her horizons, singing with a rock band for a brief period. She soon met sound engineer John McBride, and after a brief courtship, they married in 1988. Two years later, the happy couple moved to Nashville. John’s career took off first, as his sound engineering job with rising star Garth Brooks ended up a tour job with Read More

100 Greatest Women, #27: Kathy Mattea

June 4, 2008 // 7 Comments

100 Greatest Women #27 Kathy Mattea She was a gifted child who had been skipped a grade, who then dropped out of college and followed her songwriting boyfriend to Nashville. He had given up his dream before a year was through, but Kathy Mattea stuck around, laying the foundations for a career that has already spanned twenty-five years. Mattea was born in West Virginia, the daughter of a man who was the first in his family to find work outside the coal mines. She started singing in Girl Scout camp, and developed a love for folk music. Only seventeen when she began her studies at West Virginia University , she joined a bluegrass band called Pennsboro. The band leader and principal songwriter wanted to try his luck in Nashville, and Mattea made the bold decision to drop out of college and follow him to Music City. Only nineteen when she Read More

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