100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition (Introduction)

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition


Ten years ago, Country Universe ranked the 100 Greatest Women in country music history.

This March, we will do it again, adjusting the rankings to reflect new music released in the past ten years, both in terms of the artists who have been active during that time, and how the newest work has been influenced by the women who came before.  The full ballot of artists under consideration will be posted this week, along with each artist’s 2008 rankings (if applicable) and their work released in the decade since that list was published.

But there’s more! Alongside the reveal of the new top 100 will be extensive additional features focused on the women of country music, including:

  • Thought pieces on country music trends, including “How Lari White was the Canary in the Coal Mine for Women in Country Music,” and “Kelsea Ballerini’s #TBT Mixtape Exemplifies the Disconnect Between Country Music’s Past and Present”
  • 2028 Preview: Today’s Up and Coming Female Artists
  • Behind the Scenes: Business Women Who Helped Shape Country Music at Labels, Publishing Houses, and Country Music Organizations
  • The Country Music Canon: A new series that makes the case for singles and albums being essential to the country music canon
  • Retrospective: A new musical biography series that tells the story of a legendary artist through their singles and albums. First up: Olivia Newton-John
  • New and Revised for 2018 Entries in our Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists, Favorite Songs By Favorite Songwriters, Retro Single Reviews, and Starter Kit series

If this seems like a tremendous amount of retrospective content on its way, there’s a reason for that.  The revisiting of our most significant historical feature will also mark a new era for Country Universe, as we move toward focusing primarily on historical content and move away from focusing on new music.

We will still do occasional single and album reviews, as well as year-end lists and awards show predictions and picks. But as a team, we have all grown less connected to what mainstream country has become, and we simply have more interest in preserving the rich legacy of country music than we do in documenting that legacy’s destruction.

We hope our readers will join us as we embark on this journey. As always, your feedback is welcome!

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: The Ballot


  1. Wow. What an undertaking this will be. I’m excited to read everything that’s coming up though. As a reader, my interests seem to mirror yours as writers. I do appreciate current single and album reviews, but these rarely prompt any action on my part. Occasionally, as with Luke Bryan’s “Most People Are Good”, I am inspired to make a purchase, but what I find myself going back to and re-reading are the features that focus on the genre’s rich history, especially the music made by women who reached their commercial peaks prior to 2000.

  2. I’m really excited about this shift in focus. The Favorite Songs by Favorite…, the Starter Kit series and all the countdowns are my favorite pieces you all write and keep me coming back going on nine years now.

    I’m excited to see revisits and updates to old features. Seeing how tastes have shifted in the years since the feature was first written will be very interesting. As much as we all try to compile countdown ranks we can live with, more often than not, we can always make tweaks here and there. It’s so important for everyone to realize how nothing is definitive. I know there were albums and singles I was obsessed with a decade ago that wouldn’t even get my adrenaline pumping today.

    I still like your thoughts on worthy releases to check out, like last year when you highlighted Rhiannon Giddens, Jason Isbell and Rodney Crowell’s latest releases last year. I trust that kind of coverage will continue.

  3. Really looking forward to this! Frankly, I think your formal shift in focus is consistent with the direction the site has been taking for a while now. Most of my favorite features around here are the ones that focus on retrospectives, favorite artists, etc. I too find myself disconnected from contemporary country, with a few exceptions here and there. I am glad that you won’t be completely leaving the present day behind, as there still is some music out there that is worthy of country’s legacy, if you know where to look. This site has always been a great resource for exploring the richness of country music- whenever I’m looking for something new to listen to, I still occasionally browse your archives- and I can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store.

  4. Sounds interesting. In the interim, is there any chance that you can correct the link in the current Top 100 Women List to the writeup for Mary Chapin Carpenter? (The link takes me instead to the writeup for Emmylou Harris.) I’d enjoy knowing what you originally had to say about this terrific artist and her placement. Thanks.

  5. Sounds interesting – I look forward to seeing your revised take on the 100 Greatest Women (please tell me Miley Cyrus and Jessica Simpson will not be on the list).

    You might want to start with an initial article acknowledging 10-12 women who were NOT really recording artists, but rather executives, journalists, songwriters comediennes, etc. (such as Frances Preston, Mary Bufwack, Felice Bryant, Cousin Emmy, Minnie Pearl). I think it would be better to place more focus in your top 100 on singers & musicians and deal with non-musical performers separately

  6. Paul,
    To your suggestion, one of the things that we’re excited to spotlight is in the bullet points above: “Behind the Scenes: Business Women Who Helped Shape Country Music at Labels, Publishing Houses, and Country Music Organizations.”above

  7. @Leeann – I see the business women point above. But will the list of 100 greatest women still include them? Like Paul, I would rather see them listed separately.

  8. … It doesn’t / didn’t?

    Yes, the original list included some women like Gretchen Peters and Matraca Berg who are primarily known for their songwriting (though both are fine recording artists, too) and comedienne Minnie Pearl.

    But it didn’t include businesswomen like Jo Walker-Meador, who is certainly a huge figure in country music history outside of the recording and performing side. I’m excited that we’ll be highlighting the contributions of those women as we move forward, though!

  9. The 2008 list included a handful of women who had been primarily known for songwriting or comedy, but they all had recording careers as well. No business women were included in 2008, but there will be a separate businesswoman list this time around.

    I don’t think that there’s a way to break out songwriters in a way that I would be comfortable with. The ones good enough to make this list on the strength of their songwriting also were able to get recording contracts on that same strength.

    Comedians were once viable recording artists on par with your typical singers. Bob Newhart even won Album of the Year at the Grammys. Minnie Pearl’s records are largely a footnote, given her association with the Opry and Hee Haw, but Cousin Emmy’s records are tremendously significant historically. They document the genre as a whole and the rare place for a female country musician at the time. You can trace a direct line from Cousin Emmy’s performance style to Grandpa Jones, at the very least. Her participation in the New Folk Revival of the sixties was also essential for reviving interest in the early days of country music.

  10. I wonder if given their impact so far if new artists like a Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris or even though they kind of sputtered out Maddie & Tae could make the list. Also how much of a rise an artist like a Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, or Miranda Lambert got.

    Regardless I am very excited for this.

  11. The big names to look out from from the last ten years are definitely Underwood (#59 in 2008), Miranda Lambert (#90), and Taylor Swift (Not on the List.)

    There haven’t been too many successful female artists that have launched since 2008. Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, Kelsea Ballerini, Lauren Alaina, Maren Morris, and Maddie & Tae are on the ballot, though whether any of them crack the top 100 remains to be seen.

  12. I always hate to see this kind of rear-guard transition with regard to country music journalism. It is inherently conservative. It just feels like we are driving nails in the coffin of something that isn’t dead yet. I just listened to a Prime Country countdown of the Top 30 songs of a week or so ago in 1982 on the satellite radio in my truck. It was hardly uplifting or representative of what country would later have to offer in the late eighties and early nineties. It reminded me of how milquetoast and uninspiring so much of mainstream country typically is beyond the dynamic episodic bursts of growth and creativity that advance it as a living genre. I am reminded of a line from “The Last Jedi” when Commander Holdo and Poe Dameron are remembering what Princess Leia said about hope:”Hope is like the sun; if you only believe in it when you see it, you will never make it through the night.”It certainly has been a long, dark night for mainstream, Top 40 country music. I guess I am upset as anything because I hate to see your coverage of the contemporary go. The Country Universe team is good at calling bullshit on bad music. You’ve been busy because there is just a lot more bad music than there is good. But, thus has it always been. I wish you success in honoring the past and playing that vital role of carrying the tradition forward. You will be walking in high cotton, the Elysian Fields of legends and legacies. Somebody else will have to rise up to continue to winnow the wheat from the chaff down below in the darkness.

  13. I see that the list of 100 includes groups like the Dixie Chicks. I have no problem with that. I was just wondering if Baillie & the Boys were even considered for the list. Their hit making was between ’87 and ’91. I didn’t discover them til a few years after your list. I didn’t get into following country music full time til around ’92. Kathie Baillie is the leader on all their singles. I saw them at the Bluebird a few years ago and was blown away with her singing.

  14. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Peter. While our contemporary country music coverage is being de-emphasized to an extent, rest assured that it is not being eliminated entirely. As Kevin mentioned in the post, there will still be single reviews and album reviews posted periodically, and I’m sure our year-end countdowns won’t be going anywhere, so we will most definitely continue to share the new music that moves us. We hope you’ll stick around.

  15. …seriously? goin’ the “time life” route and concentrating on the “golden past” of country music mostly – what and whenever that was? as much as i look forward to an update of your great, great “100 greatest women in country music” feature and the other beautiful topics outlined, i cannot compliment you on going “jurassic” in a country kind of way. the challenge in a sometimes trite country mainstream, these days, is to separate the worthwhile from the fake and the trash. yet there is still a lot of value produced permanently somewhere in the country universe. no reason for capitulation – much to the contrary, actually. just think about it for a moment: can you make a substantial difference on the past with your blog? it sure looks more valuable to me to try and make one in the present and the future. i always have to laugh at garth haters for calling him the grave digger of “real” country music – the guy, who sang cowboy and rodeo songs in the 90’s even roy rogers or chris ledoux would have possibly killed for. perhaps, you spend a moment with dylans “the times they are a-changin'” – never gets old!

  16. Like others, I first learned of this site’s existence by way of the original countdown. I was really into Barbara Mandrell at the time (I still am), and so the first thing I read of yours was her entry. Reading the other entries basically opened me up to more females than just her, including some of my other favorites (Wynonna Judd, Suzy Bogguss, Pam Tillis, etc.) – therefore sending me all the way down the rabbit hole of country music. Seeing this feature re-done for 2018 is certainly something, and it says a lot about how the role of women in country music changed over the past decade. That said, I do have one complaint: Of all the additional features you promised, why are we only getting the Olivia Newton-John Retrospective? You promise all this extensive coverage on women in country beyond the countdown and we only get a part of it?! The countdown’s been going on since March, too!

    But nonetheless, since this may be my only opportunity to, let me comment on some women that made the 2008 list but were dropped from this one:

    #95, Sylvia
    I haven’t heard a whole lot of her stuff, but what I’ve heard, I liked. It must be to the extent that I’ve got two of the Essential Albums – Drifter and Just Sylvia – on vinyl.

    #84, Charly McClain
    One of my favorite early-Eighties artists for sure. Such a sweet voice.

    #77, Helen Cornelius
    Why in the world did Helen never have a sizable career beyond the Jim Ed Brown duets?! Her voice is so pretty! (Alas, most of what I’ve heard of her was a few Olivia Newton-John covers she did on Nashville on the Road – namely “Let Me Be There”, “I Honestly Love You”, and “If You Love Me Let Me Know”. Last I checked, they’re all on YouTube, if you’re so inclined. I’ve yet to hear the original versions, but Helen does a nice job with those three. But I digress.)

    There are a few others (Jeannie Kendall, Barbara Fairchild, Margo Smith), but to date I’ve only heard one song from all of them (respectively: “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away”, “I Just Love Being a Woman” – yes, really – and “Still a Woman”), so I can’t really say a whole lot on them.

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