100 Greatest Women, #80: Sharon and Cheryl White (The Whites)

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition


Sharon and Cheryl White (The Whites)

2008 Edition: #75 (-5)

The Whites are a family bluegrass group made up of father Buck and daughters Sharon and Cheryl. Dad had been playing bluegrass in Arkansas in the sixties with his wife Pat, and his young daughters both caught the bug. Finally, they convinced him to sell their home and move to Nashville for their shot at the big time.

Back in Arkansas, they had been performing with another family as the Down Home Folks, and even had recorded some bluegrass albums. But in the early seventies, when they started making the rounds in Nashville, mom retired from the group. The act became a dad and daughter one named The Whites.

In 1975, they played a gig with another country star who was about to break through. They made such an impression on Emmylou Harris that she recruited Sharon and Cheryl to record background vocals on her 1978 album Blue Kentucky GIrl, and took The Whites on the road with her. Sharon fell in love with Emmylou’s bandleader, a young bluegrass singer and picker named Ricky Skaggs.

Skaggs soon became Sharon’s husband, and when his bluegrass style of contemporary country hit it big on the charts, it opened the door for the sound of The Whites. The family act had a nice run of hits in the eighties, starting with the top ten “You Put the Blue in Me” in 1982, and continuing through “If It Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave it Alone)” in 1985. In 1984, they became proud Opry members.

Soon, the group was returning to its bluegrass roots, and they began to focus on gospel material on their records. 1988 brought their first Christian album, Doing it By the Book. Throughout the nineties, they were a mainstay on the Opry and on the bluegrass circuit, and they released the critically acclaimed A Lifetime in the Making in 2000 on Ceili Records, an imprint owned by Ricky Skaggs.

Suddenly, the group found themselves back in the spotlight when they contributed “Keep on the Sunny Side” to the movie soundtrack for O Brother Where Art Thou, which became an unexpected phenomenon. Their contribution also earned them their first Grammy, as they shared in the honor for Album of the Year. The Whites participated in the Down from the Mountain tour inspired by the O Brother project, and they appear in the concert documentary of the same name.

In 2008, The Whites received further acclaim for their collaboration with Ricky Skaggs on the album Salt of the Earth. It was their first album to crack the country chart in two decades, and it brought them their second Grammy, for Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album. They also won a Dove Award for the same project. That same year, the band was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame.

In 2014, Sharon White released Hearts Like Ours, another collaboration with Skaggs. Meanwhile, the Whites remain active members of the Opry cast, and continue to tour across the country.

Essential Singles

  • You Put the Blue in Me, 1982
  • Hangin’ Around, 1982
  • I Wonder Who’s Holding My Baby Tonight, 1983
  • Pins and Needles, 1984
  • Love Can’t Ever Get Better Than This (Sharon White & Ricky Skaggs), 1987

Essential Albums

  • Old Familiar Feeling (1983)
  • Whole New World (1985)
  • A Lifetime in the Making (2000)
  • Salt of the Earth (with Ricky Skaggs) (2007)

Industry Awards

  • Country Music Association
    • Album of the Year
      • O Brother Where Art Thou?, 2001
    • Vocal Duo of the Year (Ricky Skaggs & Sharon White), 1987
  • Dove Awards
    • Bluegrass Album of the Year
      • Salt of the Earth (with Ricky Skaggs), 2008
  • Grammy Awards
    • Album of the Year
      • O Brother Where Art Thou?, 2002
    • Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album
      • Salt of the Earth (with Ricky Skaggs), 2008
  • International Bluegrass Music Association
    • Album of the Year
      • O Brother Where Art Thou?, 2001
    • Distinguished Achievement Award, 2006
    • Recorded Event of the Year
      • Follow Me Back to the Fold: A Tribute to Women in Bluegrass (Sharon and Cheryl White), 2001
  • Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, 2008

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #79. Lacy J. Dalton

Previous: #81. Nanci Griffith


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