While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories.
This is a look back at the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category. It was first awarded in 1965, an included single competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.
I’ve often made the case that female artists were making the best music in the 1990s, and the Grammys did a great job nominating songs and albums that were ignored at the CMA and ACM awards, which is not surprising, given that those shows have so few categories that are actually for songs and albums.
As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back.
Martina McBride, “For These Times”
LeAnn Rimes, “What I Cannot Change”
Carrie Underwood, “Last Name”
Lee Ann Womack, “Last Call”
Trisha Yearwood, “This is Me You’re Talking To”
This year’s lineup includes three former winners and two women looking for their first victory in this category. Martina McBride is in the running for the eighth time in fifteen years, and with one of her more understated performances. Lee Ann Womack returns for a fifth time, having received a nomination for the lead single of her five most recent albums. Both ladies turned in good performances here, but they’ve been overlooked for records bigger and better, so they’re not likely to snap their losing streaks this time around.
As for the previous winners, LeAnn Rimes earned her third consecutive nod, bringing her total to five in this category. She hasn’t won since 1997, when she took home the award for “Blue.” If enough voters hear “What I Cannot Change,” she might have a shot, though the only version of the song that’s been a legitimate hit has been the dance remix.
Trisha Yearwood won in 1998 for “How Do I Live,” her only victory to date. But she’s earned her tenth nomination for “This is Me You’re Talking To,” which is arguably her strongest vocal performance of the ten. Like Rimes, the challenge is getting enough voters to listen to it, but she’s never been more deserving of the victory than she is this year.
Still, the favorite remains Carrie Underwood. She’s quickly become a favorite with Grammy voters, having won this category two years running, along with Best New Artist in 2007. She’s the nominee with the highest profile, and while “Last Name” is nowhere near the same league of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” in terms of artistry or impact, it was a big hit, something that the other four entries cannot claim.
If Underwood was nominated for “Just a Dream,” she’d have a mortal lock on this one. But the strength of the other nominees will at least keep this race competitive. If Underwood prevails, Grammy queen Alison Krauss better watch her back.
Alison Krauss, “Simple Love”
Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
LeAnn Rimes, “Nothin’ Better to Do”
Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love”
Looking at this lineup, you’d think that it was a golden age of female country artists, something akin to the mid-nineties. In reality, only one of these songs was a big radio hit, though three others managed to go top twenty. In terms of quality, however, this is the most consistent and thoroughly wonderful set of nominees this category has seen this century. You’d have to go back to exactly 1999 to find a better lineup.
In a year when any winner would have been deserving, Underwood won for “Before He Cheats,” her second straight win for a signature mega-hit from her debut album.
ldn’t touch if you don’t want to your rendition to be remembered for second-bestness. You shouldn’t touch Patsy, you shouldn’t touch Connie, you shouldn’t touch Merle, you shouldn’t touch Reba, you shouldn’t touch Wynonna, you shouldn’t touch Trisha, you shouldn’t touch either George. And you shouldn’t touch Gary Allan.
Okay, to his credit, Stone actually has some nice moments in this attempt at the honky-tonk weeper that most notably appeared on Allan’s Smoke Rings in the Dark. He’s always had one of the prettier voices in the business, and the first verse of his reading suggests he might use that quality to offer a different interpretive take on the song than Allan’s appropriately gritty vocal did. Perhaps, you think, Stone will focus on the shocked vulnerability of the drunk driver as he realizes he is near death and utters his empathic last words. Or perhaps he’ll make the whole situation sound more angelic and dreamlike, like it’s such an intensely emotional moment that it doesn’t even seem to be of this world.
But when that crucial phrase comes in the chorus, all the tension just seems to dissipate. Stone’s technical performance is hard to fault, even as he litters it with lots of little slurs that make him sound like he’s practicing to become the male McEntire. But interpretively, forget it. He sings sweetly, like he recognizes this is a sad song, but Allan sang like he actually watched it happen. “Don’t Tell Mama” is the kind of piece that requires a master interpreter to unlock its full sentimental value, and for that, you gotta have Gary.
Written by Buddy Brock, Jerry Laseter & Kim Williams
Tonight, I turn over our discussion to one of our readers. He suggested I write about this topic myself, but his suggestions were already far better than anything that I would have come up with. Thankfully, he was willing to share them with all of you!
Guest Post by Country Universe reader Jim Bagley:
About a month ago, I discovered a website http://feedback.legacyrecordings.com/ where folks can request reissues/retrospectives of artists who are part of the Sony/BMG Catalog. When you sign up, you are also given 10 votes to show which suggested product you would like to see reissued. Except for Johnny Cash, the suggested product has been decidedly uncountry and I think that the readership at Country Universe could change that for the better.
Legacy does indeed review the board and some of the suggestions – a Lou Rawls retrospective for instance – have then been subsequently released.
Here are the four listings that I have recently added:
The Essential Tammy Wynette – with only 14 tracks – was probably the worst essential set to date. Even the Tammy three disc set Tears of Fire left off many of her 40-plus top ten solo hits. Please release a two-disc set set of Tammy’s solo hits, including all top ten efforts. Many like “The Wonders You Perform,” “Reach Out Your Hand,” and “(You Make Me Want To Be) A Mother” are always left off Tammy sets. I would include the David Houston and Mark Gray hit collaborations, but please leave off the George Jones duets which have been reissued to death (and take up valuable room on other Tammy retrospectives).
Dolly Parton full career box set (4-5 discs)
Sony-BMG has control of nearly all of Dolly’s career, so why hasn’t a box set been done on her? From the mid-60s Monument singles (Dumb Blonde, Something Fishy), through her fascinating late ’60s RCA work Just Because I’m A Woman, Daddy Come and Get Me), the hit RCA years (Joshua through Think About Love), the late ’80s, early ’90s Columbia stint (Yellow Roses, Rockin’ Years), her collaboration with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, and finally, the turn of the century bluegrass gems on Sugar Hill. It would take 100-125 tracks to get it right, but Dolly deserves this deluxe treatment.
Bobby Bare three disc career box set
Bobby Bare charted 60 singles for RCA and Columbia from 1962 through 1983. It would be nice to have a box set which captured all of these hits (the past Columbia retrospectives are particularly incomplete), plus his first hit “All-American Boy” and his six early-’70s singles for Mercury. Bobby deserves it!
Connie Smith two-disc set of all of her hits
Connie Smith charted 48 singles between 1964 and 1985. All of them were for labels that are now under the Sony-BMG umbrella (RCA, Columbia, Monument, Epic). Please put together one package of ALL of her hits that does justice to Connie’s legacy.
Anyone who recorded for Columbia, Epic, Monument, RCA, or Arista is eligible for reissue. I suggested vintage artists for whom I wanted larger repackaging. But it would also be great to see an Alan Jackson box set; 20-track best-of sets for Pam Tillis, Collin Raye, and Lorrie Morgan; 16 Biggest Hits on BlackHawk, Doug Stone, and Ty Herndon, and even 10-track Super Hits for Ricochet and Wade Hayes. Country Universe readers have a wealth of knowledge and music favorites, and it would be great to see their “wish lists” and votes represented on the site.
“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 by a female artist. It launched her into stardom, and Smith became one of the most popular female acts of the decade. She scored three #1 albums, topping the charts with Connie Smith, Cute ‘N’ Country and Born to Sing. Another album released during the same time frame, Miss Smith Goes to Nashville, spent many weeks at No. 2.