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date: 23 October 2020

Gendered Stages: Country Music, Authenticity, and the Performance of Gender

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the ways country music performers and producers created contingent, gendered stages that evolved from the industry’s start in the 1920s. It also examines the ways country artists and others have welded ideas of an authentic and genuine music to those performances to make those contingent stages seem solid, stable, and unchanging, even as they reflect a southern culture in transition. The chapter describes those gendered strategies from the early barn dance radio years to the mid-1950s country and western music to the current industry, including the recent “tomato” controversy. It assumes a tight connection between the images presented on stage and the off-stage relationships between performers, producers, and other industry insiders, an interconnection that has had ramifications for country music scholarship as well. We need to examine and move beyond the links between the genre’s authenticity narratives and its various gendered stages.

Keywords: gender, authenticity, barn dance radio, country western music, country music, tomato controversy

Country music has always hidden the instability of its gender conventions and performances under the guise of authenticity. By claiming the performances to be genuine, traditional, and unchanging in repeated performances, it has fended off some attempts to “trouble,” or expose, the instability of its contingently gendered stages even as those stages and what makes country music genuine and authentic have evolved over time.1 Nowhere is this more true than on that venerable institution of country music, the Grand Ole Opry. Two shows from 1950 and 2016 are good examples of the genre’s gendered stage as well as its evolving authenticity narrative that serves as a pseudo fortress against attempts to trouble those roles.

In October 1950, the Prince Albert Tobacco hour featured Red Foley as the Master of Ceremonies; Kay Starr and Tennessee Ernie Ford as the musical guests; and Minnie Pearl as comic relief.2 Broadcast simultaneously over NBC and to a live studio audience, performers both reinforced and questioned evolving gender roles in the postwar South (and America at large) where federal investment in World War II had completed the region’s transition from a rural backwater to industrial powerhouse. In that time of change, the Opry sold its stage and characters like Minnie Pearl as tradition embodied, as representatives of a rural southern past in a modern present. Minnie Pearl’s spinster character foolishly kept a price tag stapled to her straw hat (no urban woman would ever do that); yet her desire for a man, any man, mimicked evolving postwar narratives that claimed the domestically contained nuclear family was the future.3 On that night in October, Minnie said to Ford, “Helooooo [sic] Mr. Tennessee. … You pull up a chair and set down.” Ford responded as a southern gentleman might, “Oh I couldn’t do that, Miss Minnie. There’s no chair for you to sit on.” Minnie replied, “No, but when you set down it’ll make a lap, won’t it?” Both transgressive (in her aggressiveness and supposed spinster unattractiveness) and reinforcing (in her desire for marriage) of gender roles, (p. 356) Minnie Pearl chased after men in an era when marriage and family were becoming a bulwark against Communism, as the region moved from a world war into a cold one.4

In a second example from January 2016, I watched an Opry show that laid claim to an authentic stage, but did so using its own past, thick southern accents, and haute couture to establish what was genuine and real to an audience of Smart phone users photographing the show. Connie Smith, Larry Gatlin, and Diamond Rio introduced new artists Flatt Lonesome and Aubrie Sellers, who established their Opry bona fides by performing an original song and then a cover from older country favorites (Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens, in these cases). They performed in suits and beautiful dresses or pantsuits for an audience who (like me) lived in the suburbs that ring Nashville. But what was really intriguing was Connie Smith’s patter with Sellers after her performance. “Will you let me tell them [the audience] who your mama is?” Smith asked. When Sellers said yes, Smith announced it was well-known country singer Lee Ann Womack, causing the audience to gasp audibly.5

As a cultural historian who studies radio, country music, and the on-and-off stage gendered relationships that create country music’s various gendered stages, these two snippets allow me to ask quintessentially historical questions about the nature and meaning of those stages. Moreover, I can look at the ways that performers used notions of the real and authentic to both sell the music and hide the profound changes in the nature and meaning of being male and female over time. Minnie Pearl and Aubrie Sellers, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Connie Smith, all performed appropriate stage roles for their time and place in ways that hid gendered stage exploits, whether that stage was in front of an audience, the backstage relationships that made public performances possible, or in the historical literature on country music itself.

Country music’s main historical narrative, itself a gendered stage, has been far too wedded to early assumptions of who performed to adequately assess these complicated performances and their links to changing contexts. Thus, I will examine the evolution of the early industry, authenticity narratives, and its gendered performances, and then turn my attention to the ways that historians and other scholars have investigated those performances. I will argue that the historical narrative as well as the industry’s successful use of authenticity claims has limited our ability to understand how gender—the roles and assumptions assigned to men and women, the fluidity of those roles over time, and the effect on audiences of all races and classes—works on country music stages. I finish with the consequences of ignoring the interactions between gendered narratives and authenticity claims, and suggest some new areas for exploration.

My chapter assumes several historical transitions in early country music that I need to describe first. These historical moments defined some of the core gendered imagery onstage while determining what role men and women played offstage. It also, from the first, linked evolving notions of being genuine and real to gender roles, providing a facsimile of stability. The first recordings are typically attributed to Ralph Peer, Okeh Records A&R (Artist and Repertoire) man, who recorded Mamie Smith and Fiddlin’ John Carson in the early 1920s. We now define them as a blues singer and an early country musician, respectively, but at the time, neither seemed to be the start of a new (p. 357) musical and performance genre. In fact, the initial recordings Peer did, described by folklorist Archie Green in 1965 and parsed still further by Barry Mazor in 2015, seem to be a mishmash of sounds and singers rather than a clear distinguishing of two new genres of music. At his first on-location recording session in Atlanta in June 1923, for example, Peer recorded an array of musicians including Fiddlin’ John Carson; Fannie Goosby, a black woman; Eddy Heywood, “Negro” theater pianist; Warner’s Seven Aces, a college dance band; a Morehouse College Quartet; Kemper Herreld, violinist; Lucille Bogan, a blues singer from Birmingham, Alabama; Charles Fulcher, who had a novelty jazz band; and the Bob White Syncopating Band.6 In other words, Peer recorded a cacophony of sound that had little rhyme or reason to it until, as Karl Hagstrom Miller argued, commercial recording companies like Victor and Okeh segregated the sound into “blues” (read: black) and “old time” (read: white) musics and then sold them to segregated audiences.7

The rigid commercialization of both singers and sounds that segregated black music from Fiddlin’ John Carson’s mimicked an evolving segregation that dominated every day southern life. Musically, however, both sounds originated from the same social context: the urban South with a large migrant population who wished to hear the sounds of a rural homestead where Saturday nights were spent square dancing to fiddle music in an old barn. Authentic musicians therefore were fiddlers and other musicians like Carson who could recreate that image, even though Carson had already migrated to Atlanta.8 At the same time, the initial gendering of the industry began, too, offstage. Onstage, men were instrumentalists, Masters of Ceremonies, and performers; women like Moonshine Kate and Fiddlin’ John’s daughter accompanied men who were typically the stars. In other cases, husbands corralled their wives and children, ensuring their virtue, even though the women—guitarist Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family, for example—were the musical innovators in the family. Offstage, men held technical jobs as recording engineers or were managers and A&R men. Reflective of a gender-segregated labor system, women were excluded from technical and management jobs, deemed male by the larger society. Later, in the heyday of the barn dance radio craze, women answered fan mail and were spotlighted in fan publications as the office staff, but were, again, reflective of the broader labor system where women were the secretaries and men were in charge.9

The earliest recordings of country music date from 1922 and 1923; but from approximately 1924 to about 1950, radio was the more common way most Americans heard what was initially called “old time music,” “hillbilly music,” or “old time favorites”: the programs came to be called barn dances, evoking a rural past with hay bales and hootenannies and reminding big city migrants of their rural roots. Although consumers could purchase records in the 1920s, the Great Depression shuttered records. Radio waves were free, after all, and neighbors willingly allowed friends and family to listen in. My grandmother, Doris Bertram Owen McCusker, a native Iowan who later migrated to California, remembers purchasing her first radio in the 1930s, using Farm Security Administration (FSA) funds earned by my grandfather. She recalled putting the radio on a window sill in their FSA camp housing so their neighbors could listen in.10 While it (p. 358) is not clear how listening itself was a gendered activity, listener response, recorded in fan letters sent to stations and stars, was itself uniquely gendered. Men wrote male performers, tending to ask for help getting started in the music business; women wrote in intimate terms, hoping to establish personal relationships with those same stars.11

By 1939, listeners like my grandmother regularly tuned in with their friends to the more than five hundred barn dance radio programs like the Grand Ole Opry that employed thousands of female and male performers, both locally and nationally. Shows tended to follow an evolving industry standard; as Rose Lee Maphis told me, “You had to have some guys, you had to have some girls, and you had to have a comedian” for a barn dance show and, later, country music program to be successful.12 From the beginning, those stages attempted to create gendered binary models, meaning there were men and there were women, cast in country terms as cowboys and cowgirls, southern matriarchs and hillbillies (typically, though not exclusively, gendered as masculine). Sold as a stable cast of characters because of their authentic rural or mountain roots, some, especially comedians, were able to cross those gendered boundaries with ease and impunity—and for a lot of laughs—without upsetting these stalwart notions of authenticity. The comedy team Shorty (who was five feet, two inches tall) and Little Eller (who was six foot, four inches tall) performed on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance in Kentucky, and their physical stature–their respective heights seemed to suggest an equal flip of gender roles–undermined the very roles barn dance stages were creating.13 Yet Renfro Valley promised a good time listening to traditional, genuine performances from the mountains where nothing seemed to change; therefore, Shorty and Eller’s comedy stylings were just for fun and not a real challenge.

The end of rationing, and the more common appearance of jukeboxes after World War II ended, catalyzed a resurgent record industry, causing the demise of barn dance radio by 1960. World War II had limited the sale of records because the federal government rationed shellac, a waterproofing agent that was also a prime ingredient in making records. The strike against recording companies from 1942 to 1944 because of disputes over royalties required union musicians affiliated with the American Federation of Musicians to boycott recording new music and work exclusively on the radio. Once the strike ended, recorded music once again flourished. But barn dance performers faced more than challenges catalyzed by the strike’s end or the end of rationing. Television and its phenomenal success required radio in general to reinvent itself (the now common dee jay format emerged in this era) while requiring barn dance performers to transition to records as rock and rollers, especially Elvis Presley, who sold records to an increasingly younger demographic. The shift in platform, or how consumers heard the music, also warranted a musical name change from old-time favorites or hillbilly music to country and western music.14

It was in this transition from barn dance radio to country music that the first histories of the industry were displayed (e.g., at music festivals) or written. The early historical focus on great stars followed the industry’s own narratives, justly aided by industry executives like Carrie Rodgers, wife of Jimmie Rodgers, who helped proclaim her husband as country music’s first superstar. In fact, it was just one of many examples of the industry (p. 359) and the history overlapping, reinforcing, and guiding each other. Rodgers based her claims on the biography she wrote entitled My Husband, Jimmie Rodgers (1935).15 Then, in the early 1950s, capitalizing on her notoriety as Rodgers’s widow, she linked her husband’s musical innovation to new country music stars like Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb, whom she claimed as Jimmie’s inheritors. Finally, she helped create the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival in Meridian, Mississippi, where both Snow and Tubb were featured. She (and others) used Jimmie’s recorded material from the late 1920s and early 1930s to make him the paternal originator in country music’s genealogy, from which all other country music descended.16 Plenty of other musicians, notably Fiddlin’ John Carson, the Carter Family, and others, have a claim to that particular paternalism or maternalism; but the yearly Meridian festival was crucial in certifying Jimmie Rodgers as the commercial beginning. Moreover, because his music was only available on records, recordings became the primary method for recreating country music’s past because they were the only available renderings of his performances, even though radio performances seemed to have dominated his early career.

It was in this shift from radio to records that the first scholarly studies of country music were written, typically acknowledged to be Archie Green’s “Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol” (1965) and Bill C. Malone’s Country Music, U.S.A. (1968).17 This was a new gendered stage where new roles for country music men and women were established and claimed as authentic and traditional. Men were defined as the commercially successful recording stars or successful music innovators; women were the noncommercial support system, confined as they were to the home. Moreover, because the first historians—including most notably Charles Wolfe—were able to conduct oral interviews with old-time stars in the 1960s and 1970s, these gendered assumptions at times could color how the interviews were conducted and memories recorded. Scholars thus created a unique gendered stage, down to the very primary sources used to construct our histories, that has shaped how we understood the industry and its development.18

Beginning what was a fifty-year career in which he “worked tirelessly to redefine and invigorate American democracy through his research on the traditions and practices of working people,” Archie Green’s article traced the evolution of the name hillbilly and its usage in the early recording industry when Ralph Peer first recorded that array of musicians and singers. Because he was among the first to write a history of the industry, he was more opened to his sources, reporting a broader image of the early “hillbilly” industry than an exclusive focus on paternal beginnings—typical of Green’s eclectic personality.19 While his work was an opening salvo in claiming country music as a scholarly topic, it was Bill Malone’s dissertation, published by the American Folklore Society in 1968 and later revised into Country Music, U.S.A. (2nd edition, 1985), that first constructed the now dominant narrative. It included the assumptions of a social historian educated in the 1960s; namely, that men were the main actors of history. In a country music historian’s hands, their masculinity was natural and real because their upbringing in working-class rural areas ensured a certain authenticity.20 Thus, Malone rooted performances in artist biographies, organized chronologically, to describe that organic musical innovation or commercial success, a standard I have also used in my work. If, (p. 360) by its very nature, country music came from the authentic, lived experiences of a southern working class, then documenting that working life and its musical innovations was the key to understanding the music and its audiences.21 Commercially successful female performers like Kitty Wells posed certain problems because Wells sold a lot of records. By declaring her the rare exception, she proved the male rule.

Malone was primarily tasked with proving that his subject had legitimacy as a field of study. In an era when working-class, white Southerners were not studied by historians, and musicologists viewed vernacular music as unsophisticated, Malone’s job was to make country music a legitimate field of study, which he has more than done.22 But to legitimate the field, he assumed that primary source material had to be written or recorded, creating stable documents that could not mutate. Records thus became the common source, even though they tended not to be purchased during the Great Depression and were restricted during World War II. This also made Billboard magazine and its recording charts the bible of commercial recording success and an essential source to some scholars.23 Finally, commercial success came to be the foundational definition of who was a country music performer and who was not, defining, too, who was a man and who was a woman on a country music stage.

Women’s contributions to country music began to be acknowledged in the midst of the Second Wave Feminist movement in the early 1970s where historians writing about women’s history were the leading theorists, challenging historians to reexamine their texts for the ways women contributed to the past.24 For scholars like English professor William C. Lightfoot, this meant tracking down old radio performers and doing extensive interviews with them, eventually publishing them in the myriad small scholarly journals such as the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Quarterly or Old Time Country that focused on old-time performers. The oral interviews especially are foundational primary source texts for scholars of gender who wanted to document the performance of gender in the early radio days. For others, like Charles Wolfe, it meant extending the Malone narrative to explain why women were or were not commercially successful in their oral interviews.25 In other words, oral interviews, a key method for country music scholars, were gendered sources that reinforced other gendered assumptions about who was a performer and why that performer was important.

Few have done more than Charles Wolfe in tracking down old-time stars and interviewing them, or collecting and keeping old industry journals like Country Song Roundup. His enormous collection, now in the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University, promises to be a major contribution to the study of country music, a contribution that will either equal or (more likely) surpass the John Edwards Memorial Foundation collection that is now part of the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Among the most useful documents is the oral interview Wolfe conducted with Millie Good McCluskey, a member, with her sister, Dollie, of the Girls of the Golden West who were successful radio performers on the National Barn Dance (on WLS radio in Chicago) in the 1930s. Conducted in April 1978, the interview with McCluskey and her husband, Bill—himself a National Barn Dance performer—is a wonderful look into the golden age of barn dance radio and the (p. 361) ways that producers and performers constructed stage personas that idealized certain images of men and women for their audiences. The interview includes Millie’s descriptions of linking her stage performances to the Old West’s authenticity narratives that had been common in vaudeville and silent film. The Girls were real, genuine Westerners (although born and raised in Illinois) because they wore real fringed vests and cowgirl hats and yodeled as if crooning to the cattle on the range or listeners in their radio audience. While the Girls did do some recording, most of their work was on radio, which promised a steady and stable weekly salary in Chicago, a city with a large migrant population eager to hear songs that sounded like home.26 The emphasis on male achievement coupled with feminists’ more general assessment of women’s (lack of) power limited Wolfe as he attempted to account for the Girls’ success. In the interview, he asked Millie, “Do you think your career would have been easier had you not been women?” Millie’s answer was

No, we never thought that. We were very fortunate really from the time we started singing, we were never out of a job if we wanted to work, and we never had to look for a job. Dollie took it up on her own, I had already started working as a salesgirl when I was fourteen and then I went with her on my lunch hour for an audition at Camwax in St. Louis. She was more aggressive with it than I was and the harmony just came naturally to me so we started singing together and everything progressed from there.27

Other interviews with major radio stars—in particular the five interviews with Lulu Belle Wiseman that Lightfoot conducted between 1982 and 1985 and published in 1987 and 1989—moved beyond the assumption that few women participated in the industry and that those who succeeded needed to act aggressively to make it in an exclusively male world. Wiseman, cast as the southern mountain mother who had migrated to Chicago, was named Radio Queen of 1936, a national radio honor that ranked her above Helen Hunt and other radio luminaries as the nation’s favorite female radio star. Her wide-ranging and extensive interviews with Lightfoot described how she navigated the barn dance stage and the fraught relationships based on gender and class that ultimately led to real commercial success.28 Wiseman cited, for example, the publication of commercial songbooks, the release of records, and the extra money made from “playing out” (holding concerts) within a days’ drive of the home radio studio that provided her financial security. In other words, the Lightfoot interviews allowed Wiseman to include commercial success as a female trait.

Other authors incorporated these documents and some of their underlying narrative into their work, feeding on each other in a manner that reinforced some of these initial gendered assumptions.29 The second edition of Malone’s Country Music, U.S.A. continued the assumption that women were rare, but challenges posed by Lightfoot’s articles and by women’s historians required the narrative to flex and mutate. Moreover, the financial success in the 1970s and 1980s of female recording stars like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn required country music’s main narrative to account for them because their success “troubled,” or shook the narrative. Where did their commercial success come (p. 362) from if authentic, real women were confined to the home? Gendered constructions—men as commercial, women as not—simply did not work here. Scholars thus crafted a language that limited women to a domestic sphere, away from the public work that men did, without recognizing that those links with the domestic sphere actually opened up a space for musical, commercially successful women on stages. Women who did venture beyond those confines were cast as feminists who wanted to aggressively reshape and remake the industry for other women, with no influence on men. To account for their rarity, Malone argued (when the first edition did not have similar text) that,

Public performances of all kinds were dominated by men, and the physically aggressive skills of fiddling, banjo playing, and the like were felt best confined to male participants, particularly when displayed at such rowdy events as country dances or fiddle contests. Women certainly played banjoes, fiddles, and other instruments at home (and some of them, such as Samantha Bumgarner and Eva Davis, even appeared as instrumentalists on early commercial recordings), but few men were willing to compete against the ladies in any kind of public arena, and the women were encouraged to keep their talents noncompetitive and at home.

Future Coon Creek Girl Lily May Ledford won some of those contests, but the narrative did not allow for that success. Women in this edition of Country Music, U.S.A. were indeed such a special case that its index warranted a heading for women, but there is no twin heading for men, suggesting that men were the history and women were the outliers. The first edition did not have this language nor this index issue.30

Work in the 1990s pulled away country music’s veneer of inherent authenticity to find the industry sold itself as noncommercial, authentic music and made a lot of money doing so. Country music’s claims to authenticity, then, served as a genre marker that allowed its artists and fans to counterpose pop music as its inauthentic other. Authenticity was its own commercial construct that had been wielded in subtle ways, Richard Peterson and Joli Jensen argued, but neither tended to recognize the intrinsic links between authenticity narratives and their potentially stabilizing effect on a gendered (and raced and classed) stage.

Richard Peterson’s Creating Country Music (1997) helped shift studies of country music from social history to cultural history, directly challenging the assumption that country music eschewed commercialism. Instead, Peterson argued that the music’s supposed authenticity divided country music into two types: “hard-core” and “soft-shell” music. Men (and a few women) sang hard-core songs about drinking and honky tonkin’ (think George Jones and Buck Owens), while women (and a few men) played at being mothers and wives, becoming the embodiment of soft-shell music. Certainly, there were outliers who crossed boundaries—Loretta Lynn as hard-core; Eddy Arnold as soft-shell. Peterson’s narrative gendered the terms so that men were associated with one kind of country music and women with another, reinforcing a binary division of male/female. Because of the tendency to see soft-shell music as having female, pop music elements to it, some journalists and scholars typically dismissed it in favor of hard-core singers who sang “real” country music.31

(p. 363) Joli Jensen’s The Nashville Sound: Authenticity, Commercialization and Country Music, published a year later, implicitly gendered ideas of country music authenticity as she, too, tore away the image of noncommercial music. Although she agreed with Peterson’s argument that country music authenticity had pop music as its antithesis artifice, Jensen willingly used female performers like Patsy Cline to deconstruct ideas of authenticity, albeit without really examining the links between their femininity and authenticity. Jensen’s book focuses on the Nashville or “Countrypolitan” Sound, the pop-influenced, violin-backed, smooth-voiced country music of the late 1950s and early 1960s that producers Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins developed and that featured stars such as Patsy Cline (who is featured prominently on the book’s cover) and Jim Reeves. In its initial incarnation in the 1950s, the Nashville Sound seemed to veer too much from its country roots toward a pop music that catered to an audience becoming ensconced in new suburbs.32 Thus dismissed initially by scholars, cultural critics, and musicians alike, the Nashville Sound came to be considered by many as a low point in the genre, at least by the 1970s, according to Jensen. But in an ironic twist, what was pop music became country music’s authentic moment in the 1990s when Shania Twain and others threatened to move country music in other directions.33 In another difference from Peterson, Jensen emphasized the ways that Patsy Cline and other women were at the commercial cutting edge for this moment of authentic country music. This also allowed Jensen to argue that, in general, “a presumption of organic origins helps to mark the genre as authentic,” even as those origins led to big business and even bigger profits. Cline’s organic origin proved to be her role, as a protégée of Owen Bradley rooted her authenticity in his role as an architect of the Nashville Sound.34

Moviemakers and pop culture writers created their own gendered stages as they recovered Cline and other female performers in the 1980s. Loretta Lynn was a catalyst for this trend with the publication of her autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, in 1976 and the subsequent 1980 release of its film adaptation (with a stunning performance by Beverly D’Angelo of Cline).35 But Patsy Cline was the main beneficiary with movies such as “Sweet Dreams” (1983) and pop culture books such as Ellis Nassour’s Honky Tonk Angel (1981) and Margaret Jones’s Patsy (1994) popularizing her talent while building an iconic image of her as a tragic country music star who died on the cusp of great fame and fortune.36 That work, problematic though it was because of its lack of scholarly citations, proved a catalyst in the 1990s for the so-called decade of women, as the title of a 90s television special stated.37 Many assumed that women like Cline and Lynn were feminists who assumed a way for women in country music, rather than key innovators in a changing industry. Cline was particularly known for her aggressiveness and her willingness to thumb her nose at female conventions, allowing these pop culture scholars to cast her as a feminist. I disagree with the characterization that an assertive personality made one a feminist. But Cline was one who pushed the boundaries that encircled her as a woman, without an eye toward collapsing them for other women, and willingly challenged Bradley and others in building her career.

Scholars followed these feminist premises, particularly Mary Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann, whose work, Finding Her Voice, came out in 1993.38 Bufwack and Oermann (p. 364) structured their narrative around the Malone premise: women were not really contributors to the early industry because of their lack of commercial success; but then, through careful and painstaking research, the authors identified hundreds of women who performed on country music stages from the first, belying the Malone narrative on every page. Encyclopedic in nature, Bufwack and Oermann asked where the women were but did not ask how stage shows created ideas of femininity and masculinity. Nor did they necessarily link women’s roles to country music’s authenticity narratives. Other scholars, myself included, then asked why women were there.

When my own work, Lonesome Cowgirls and Honky-Tonk Angels (begun in 1994 and published in 2008) appeared, my intention was to take this next step, to question how we studied women’s roles and by extension and implication, reform how we understood the industry as a gendered stage in general. These questions required me to move beyond record sales (Patsy Montana had the only claim, precarious at best, to a #1 hit for “I Want To Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” in 1935) and to argue that radio was the more financially viable and secure medium for all country musicians, especially in the 1930s when sales of records plummeted.39 In the 1930s, women’s voices, from the obscure Linda Parker to Radio Queen Lulu Belle Wiseman, helped tame radio technology, which was seen as dangerous and threatening because it transported sound into private, intimate spaces like living rooms. Radio mothers were especially effective in declaring radio therapeutic in an era of unemployment and depression, making the products that sponsored them, for example, Alka Seltzer, seem like therapeutic and not crass commercialism. But as important, I looked at female performers’ relationships with male producers and other offstage personnel to see how behind-the-scenes shows were their own gendered stages and the consequences for female performers whose virtue was so intrinsically linked to the show’s success. A gendered double standard seems to have guided them. Management, almost exclusively male, turned a blind eye toward male performer indiscretions with alcohol or with extramarital liaisons, for example; female performers, however, could not smoke in public, could not drink, and their sexuality was ruthlessly controlled, lest that behavior give lie to that virtuous stage.40

I struggled in the earliest years of my research with other scholars’ tendency to use gender interchangeably with women. Men—as the universal sex—did not have a gender; only women did, hence the language performers and women performers that tended to reinforce men as the universal sex. That tendency was complicated when Joan Wallach Scott’s innovative article, “Gender: A Useful Category of Analysis,” appeared in 1986, requiring scholars, albeit slowly, to rethink how we examined masculinity and femininity over time. Working from a premise that gender was contingent and therefore, evolving, Scott defined gender as the “constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes and gender is a primary way of signifying relationship of power,” which eventually prompted some scholars to rethink the interchangeable use of “gender” and “women.”41 No longer was stage imagery, for example, an absolute, but a gendered performance linked to a precise time and place. But the biography-by-biography model that so dominated the country music model had to (p. 365) be reworked to understand how stage performances constructed gender roles, married them to authenticity narratives, and rooted them in a specific time.

Diane Pecknold and I used Scott’s theories as guiding principles in A Boy Named Sue: Essays in Gender and Country Music (2004). We asked, how was music gendered in relationship to country music and what were the consequences? The contributors argued that gender on country music stages marked the genre boundaries of the industry, and that country music, as a cultural force, helped define—and then was defined by— contemporary cultural and historical contexts. While we attempted to move beyond the tendency to assume gender and women were synonymous, there was a relative lack of work on men in 2004, as acting and therefore creating ideas about masculinity. Michael Bertrand’s article on Elvis’s appropriation of black, working-class male styles and Pecknold’s essay on country music masculinity in the 1950s and 1960s both pointed to ways in which we might consider southern working-class masculinities in black and white men; but the majority of the collection focused on women and their contributions to early barn dance stages, dance halls, and displays of feminism on country music stages in the 1990s, among others.42

Other scholars such as Pamela Fox and Beth Bailey have used different conceptual terms to unpack women’s performances specifically and at least consider the industry’s authenticity narratives in attempting to stabilize its gender roles. By deconstructing the stage’s studied use of rusticity to push its claims of authenticity, Fox was able to examine how not just gender—but class and to a lesser extent, race—worked to promote authentic stages in (for example) country music women’s biographies.43 By focusing on women’s performances, too, she also deconstructed male performances as the normative ones on those stages. Bailey, considering notions of “respectability,” argued that national stardom and commercial success allowed Cline to trump small-town politics that labeled her as crass and unrespectable (Winchester, Virginia, elites, her hometown, thought this) as she used different standards—commercial success and national significance—to make her own claims to being respectable.44

Others have begun to deconstruct masculine roles on stage and have done a better job of linking those masculine roles to the audience that consumes the music. This work has tended to focus on “hard-core” country music, that Richard Peterson-inspired term for country music sung in honky tonks by Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Waylon Jennings and focused on drinking and cheating songs. Barbara Ching’s Wrong’s What I do Best (2001) was the opening salvo in claiming hard country’s cultural role in creating and sustaining specifically working-class men’s identities as men. Ching argued that hard country was (and is) a relatively marginalized style that valued words sung by an untrained, but lonesome-sounding voice. As a cultural critic, she parsed those words to discover how working-class men used them to counter their own “low” position in the nation’s cultural hierarchy. As they lost access to the American dream via good manufacturing jobs that had been outsourced, they still could criticize “uptown people” for dismissing their music, and by extension, them.45 Aaron Fox’s ethnographic work on honky tonk bars around Lockhart, Texas, Real Country (2004), links that music to a heroic masculinity of sorts. Working class men, whose lives had been destabilized by (p. 366) the outsourcing of blue collar jobs and the demise of union benefits and representation, claimed Haggard and other hard country singers (and the semiprofessional performers who sang their music in local bars) as real men while dismissing middle-class culture as effeminate and artificial. At the same time, women were pseudo feminists whose increasing economic contribution to the working-class family still made them long for a past where they could fulfill the role of the nurturing mother.46

Some of the most recent work still participates in the recovery of women who have been erased from gendered scholarly stages, but with a sophistication that links authenticity narratives to the construction and questioning of gender roles. Leigh Edward’s forthcoming work, Dolly Parton and Gender Performance in Country Music, for example, analyzes Dolly’s fake–real narrative, a merging of her impoverished upbringing in the Tennessee mountains with her campy appearance, famously claimed by her common statement, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” She then tracked the fake–real narrative as it evolved from television and records in the 1960s to contemporary incarnations of a digital Dolly (e.g., on social media). Parton was purposeful and clear that “Dolly” is a public performance, where “gender roles are artificial in the sense that they are socially constructed, made up of each society’s changing ideas and stereotypes about gender rather than some inherently, supposedly natural gender role.”47

More recent, very exciting work collapses the standard stage binary of male–female, particularly as scholars begin to assess country music from a LGBTQ lens. Nadine Hubbs’ book Rednecks, Queers, and Country and her articles on Gretchen Wilson and on the homoerotics of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” steer us toward the transgressive quality of some entertainers’ gendered stages as they collapsed the boundaries between men and women, or ignored them altogether. How have these authenticity narratives, Hubbs asked, provided cover for LGBTQ interpretations, for example, on very public stages? Dolly’s own authenticity and the firm foothold that “Jolene” has as a classic country music cheating song allowed Parton to musically warn Jolene away from her man and then, to wax lovingly about her beauty—a hint at her own attraction to the red-headed, green-eyed vixen. It does not hurt that Dolly has been an open and passionate ally to the LGBTQ community, another subtext that makes this interpretation possible.48 It is in this context we might also reconsider Minnie Pearl’s performances on Opry stages as having their own transgressive qualities.

Still, the field has had problems breaking free from its own past to move beyond the commercially successful men model and incorporate more fluid ideas of gender and authenticity that push past the male–female binary. Part of the problem is that the narrative of manliness as the commercial success has made subtle changes, with a new focus on men who earned #1 hits rather than simply being commercially successful. This once again marginalizes women, relegating them to country music’s sidelines. Work like Country Boys and Redneck Women—which Diane Pecknold and I coedited and released in 2016—has attempted to move beyond this assumption by including articles that contextualized country music performances in global politics, rooted gendered stage performances in the racial politics of the 1960s and 1970s, or exposed the industry’s (p. 367) gendered relationships behind the scenes as female songwriters tried to navigate the industry’s hard and fast rules about women and radio.49

The recent “tomato” controversy points to why we need to continue to trouble narrowly defined gender roles because those roles have real consequences for women and their access to radio play, particularly in this era when “Bro Country,” the popular subgenre of country music that spotlights guys driving big trucks, fishing and hunting, and hitting on pretty girls, dominates radio play (although its popularity is thankfully waning). The tomato controversy emerged when one rather inelegant radio consultant, Keith Hill, told Country Aircheck in May 2015 that a radio station should never play two female musicians back to back. He said, “The lettuce is Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are our females.”50 In other words, limit women’s music and focus on the supposed economic prowess of male stars because they will make you more money. It is precisely these assumptions, long rooted in the industry and parsed out in the scholarship, that need to be exposed. Female performers will do this; witness the very funny Maddie and Tae song and video for their “Girl in a Country Song,” which questions bro country’s authenticity because it denies its own past. They sing, “Aww no/Conway and George Strait/Never did it this way/Back in the old days,” because hard country singers George Strait and Conway Twitty did not display rude and crass images of women in their media.51 However, all of country music’s gendered stages, including its scholarly one, must also contribute to challenging the tendency to define success as male centered.

There are other kinds of stages, too, that need to be married to gender roles and authenticity narratives. Most recently, scholars have tried to depose the divide between country music, perceived to be white, and soul or blues music, perceived to be black. Although this mix has not accounted for issues of gender—the main musical actor tends to be a man who exists beyond any accounting of him being a man—Charles Hughes and Karl Hagstrom Miller have made significant contributions to our understanding of how race, class, and southern music intersected.52 Hughes’s work, for example, moves beyond the white-centered focus of early country music history to identify a country-soul triangle between Memphis, Nashville, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, that allowed a cross-racial culture of male musicians to share music in back rooms, in recording studios, and on records. Ironically, however, that very culture reinforced the racial divisions between soul music and country music when promoters marketed black and white musics publicly to black or white audiences.53 In Miller’s hands, country music “became white” as it was commercialized in the 1920s. In other words, he described the evolution of a “musical color line” in the 1910s and 1920s that served as the musical version of Jim Crow segregation as producers and others took musicians’ large and fluid musical repertoire and mutated them into the narrow musical categories we now call blues or soul music, exclusively played by black musicians, and country music, played exclusively by white men.54 For both authors, however, the stellar bluesman supplanted the male country music innovator as the key player, and this easy substitution has not caused any substantial evaluation of gender. Matthew Sutton’s work on Charley Pride in Country Boys and Redneck Women, however, does link Pride’s masculine authenticity claims to (p. 368) his commercial success as a country star to describe how Pride controlled his potential economic “danger” as a black man making it big in a white industry in the post-Civil Rights era.55

It might seem an unwieldy premise, however, to look for gendered, raced, and classed stages. Perhaps one way to move beyond the limits of the current literature is to examine areas like Macon, Georgia, and Jackson, Tennessee, small southern cities where musicians shared music across gender and racial lines, at least out of the eye of a broader commercial public. In Macon, the Allman Brothers were the recipients of a rich musical heritage bequeathed by Little Richard and Otis Redding, who themselves were the recipients of a musical legacy that included Lucille Hegamin. In Jackson, Big Maybelle and Carl Perkins were near contemporaries, while Sleepy John Estes and Tina Turner were neighbors just up the street in Brownsville.56 The obscure performer, whether female or male, can be a key player here without having to be a financially successful musician.

Perhaps no artist better embodies the potential of rooting a musical performance to a specific place than genre-busting singer Bobbie Gentry (born Roberta Lee Streeter), whose “Ode to Billie Joe” spent four weeks at #1 in August and September, 1967.57 Gentry was born in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, in 1944 (home also to blues slide guitarist Bukka White) and educated in Greenwood on the Mississippi Delta, famed for being the birthplace for the blues.58 “Ode to Billie Joe” tends to be cast as a musical version of William Faulkner’s southern gothic, which emphasizes damaged white Southerners crawling blindly and pathetically through their daily lives, an interpretation that relies on Gentry’s white skin rather than her interracial (at least in terms of territory) upbringing. A better interpretation might emphasize the dailyness of the lyrics, which roots the song in a common Mississippi rural landscape that both black and white Southerners recognized. The song name checks black-eyed peas, choppin’ (not chopping) cotton, and a second piece of pie as the news of Billie Joe’s suicide is passed around the dinner table alongside the biscuits. Symbolically, this could be a black or white family eating a meal and sharing the day’s news before heading back out to the fields. Gentry’s husky vocal timbre is in fact more reminiscent of blues singer Big Mama Thornton’s, in contrast to Dolly Parton’s clear tones, adding to the interracial nature of the song. Its valuing of a specific place—Mississippi’s Yazoo River and the Tallahatchie Bridge, which also appeared in the song’s video—reinforces the links between this interracial persona and a vibrant musical location.59

The commercial success of “Ode to Billie Joe” on multiple charts reflects that deeply interracial performance. It hit #1 on Billboard’s pop charts, but it was also #7 on the R&B charts while reaching #17 on the country charts. As a white woman, Gentry should have been listed only on the country or pop charts, but her crossover success onto the R&B charts, problematic as Billboard is in determining who listens and how, can be an entree to understanding how musicians root their gendered and cross-racial performances to specific places. I should note multiple black and white performers have covered the song, for example, fellow Mississippian, Tammy Wynette, who recorded the song in 1968.60 The next step will be for scholars to do a deep examination of the region, using (p. 369) other documents like census records, oral histories, maps, and other documents to reconstruct how location placed musicians and future musicians within earshot.

This does not mean that urban centers like Memphis should be ignored. A more careful look at urban musical traditions, for example, street performing traditions, or “busking,” that gave street musicians like Memphis Minnie their names and musical starts, should be investigated.61 Theatrical circuits in those same urban areas and the small town alike are also an understudied phenomena that might elicit a more holistic understanding of how musicians made music away from the commercial headlights of Billboard magazine.62

We have begun to move beyond the narrow, gendered conception of country music as white working-man’s music to examine the links between the genre’s authenticity narratives and its various gendered stages, but country music scholarship’s own inherently gendered narrative has to be fully dislodged and practical infrastructure disrupted (e.g., primary sources) for good work to continue. More recent scholars have shown us how to move beyond that narrative: to cast our work in ways that account for gender as an important mechanism in defining country music performances while posing a wary eye at authenticity narratives attempting to stabilize what is really a contingent medium. Now we must build on that work so that gendered stages and authenticity narratives become standard analyses while still expanding our work to see the links in building other identities like race, sexuality, and global identities.


(1.) The word “trouble” comes from Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), vii–viii.

(2.) The sponsor for that one hour was Prince Albert Tobacco; therefore, the sponsor titled that segment.

(3.) Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 1988).

(4.) Script, Prince Albert Tobacco Hour, October 7, 1950 (Nashville, TN: Country Music Foundation Library, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum), 9.

(5.) January 16, 2016, was the date of this show.

(6.) Archie Green, “Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol,” Journal of American Folklore 78, no. 309 (July–September, 1965): 208; Barry Mazor, Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music (Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press, 2015), 51–57.

(7.) Karl Hagstrom Miller, Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

(8.) Patrick Huber, Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 43–102.

(9.) Ruth Milkman, Gender at Work: The Dynamics of Job Segregation by Sex During World War II (Urbana–Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1987); Kristine M. McCusker, Lonesome Cowgirls and Honky-Tonk Angels: The Women of Barn Dance Radio (Urbana–Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008), 132.

(10.) Doris Bertram Owen McCusker, “The Story of My Life” (unpublished autobiography in author’s possession).

(11.) Kristine M. McCusker, “Dear Radio Friend: Listener Mail and the National Barn Dance, 1931-1941,” American Studies 39, no. 2 (Summer 1998): 173–195.

(12.) Oral interview of Rose Lee Maphis by Kristine McCusker, May 19, 1998; March 24, 1999; Center for Popular Music, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN.

(13.) Loyal Jones, Country Music Humorists and Comedians (Urbana–Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008), 206–208.

(14.) Diane Pecknold, The Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).

(15.) Carrie Rodgers, My Husband, Jimmie Rodgers (San Antonio, TX: San Antonio Southern Literary Institute, 1935).

(16.) Much of this creation is documented in Country Song Roundup, an industry magazine that was active in the 1950s. See, for example, Carrie Rodgers, “My Jimmie,” Country Song Roundup 1, no. 20 (October 1952): 10.

(17.) Green, “Hillbilly Music,” 204–228; Bill C. Malone, Country Music U.S.A.: A Fifty Year History (Austin: The University of Texas Press for the American Folklore Society, 1968). See also Patrick Huber, “ ‘Turkey in de Straw,’ 1892—The First Hillbilly Recording? Defining Early Country Music as a Commercial Genre” (paper presented at the International Country Music Conference, Nashville, TN, May 26, 2007; paper in author’s possession).

(18.) The Wolfe family very generously donated Professor Wolfe’s papers to the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University, including the more than 3,200 tapes, reel-to-reel recordings, and other interviews he conducted over the course of his scholarship. See “The Charles K. Wolfe Audio Collection,”

(19.) Sean Burns, Archie Green: The Making of a Working-Class Hero (Urbana–Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2011), xvi. Green’s papers are now at the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

(20.) Bill C. Malone, Country Music U.S.A., 2nd ed. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985).

(21.) See McCusker, Lonesome Cowgirls.

(22.) Richard A. Peterson remembers similar “elitist snobbery” toward the study of country music in the early 1970s at Vanderbilt University when he made the switch from industrial sociology to a very successful career studying country music. See Peterson, Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997), x, 6–7. See also Joli Jensen’s discussion of this in The Nashville Sound: Authenticity, Commercialization and Country Music (Nashville, TN: The Country Music Foundation Press and the Vanderbilt Press, 1998), 14.

(23.) Malone, Country Music, U.S.A., 2nd ed., vii. He mentions that the Country Music Hall of Fame and the John Edwards Memorial Foundation were only just creating archives.

(24.) For examples of this work, see Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “The Female World of Love and Ritual,” Signs 1, no. 1 (Autumn 1975): 1–29; Gerda Lerner, The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Woman’s [sic] Rights and Abolition (1968; repr., New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

(25.) Patrick Huber makes a similar reference to the Malone narrative, although he calls it the Malone thesis. See Huber, “ ‘Turkey in de Straw.’ ”

(26.) Dollie Good died in 1967.

(27.) Oral interview, Milly Good McCluskey to Charles Wolfe, April 20, 1978 (in author’s possession). This is a wonderful interview where Wolfe asked what songs she and her sister wrote, what music they used from others, and what was and was not recorded.

(28.) William C. Lightfoot, “From Radio Queen to Raleigh: Conversations with Lulu Belle, Pt. 1,” Old Time Country 6, no. 2 (1989): 4–10; William C. Lightfoot, “From Radio Queen to Raleigh, Pt. 2,” Old Time Country 6, no. 3 (1989): 3–9; William C. Lightfoot, “Belle of the Barn Dance: Reminiscing with Lulu Belle Wiseman Stamey,” Journal of Country Music 12, no. 1 (1987): 2–15.

(29.) For an example of scholarly work that was unable to transcend these early assumptions, see Jeffrey J. Lange, Smile When You Call Me Hillbilly: Country Music’s Struggle for Respectability, 1939-1954 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004).

(30.) Malone, Country Music, U.S.A., 2nd ed., 22, 545.

(31.) Peterson, Creating Country Music, 138, 150–155.

(32.) Jensen, Nashville Sound, 4–5. See also her chapter, “Patsy Cline’s Crossovers: Celebrity, Reputation and Feminine Identify,” in A Boy Named Sue: Essays in Gender and Country Music, ed. Kristine M. McCusker and Diane Pecknold (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004), 107–131.

(34.) Ibid. 92.

(35.) Loretta Lynn, with George Vecsey, Coal Miner’s Daughter (Chicago, IL: Henry Regnery Company, 1976). The movie version was directed by Michael Apted.

(36.) Ellis Nassour, Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline (New York: Tower Books, 1981); Margaret Jones, Patsy: The Life and Times of Patsy Cline (New York: Harper-Collins, 1994). I consider this work, especially the Nassour work, problematic because they tend to report gossip and innuendo without documenting the sources of that gossip and innuendo.

(37.) I refer here to the television special, “Women of Country Music,” which came out in 1993. Directed by Bud Schaetzle, High Five Entertainment, Murphy Center, Murfreesboro, TN.

(38.) Mary A. Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann, Finding Her Voice: Women in Country Music, 1800–2000 (New York: Crown Press, 1993).

(39.) For all of the weight given to Billboard recording charts, there is no way to ascertain what was and was not a country music hit in the 1930s, which gives Montana’s claim—and that of any other 1930s country music artist—questionable at best.

(40.) McCusker, Lonesome Cowgirls.

(41.) Joan Wallach Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Analysis,” American Historical Review 91, no. 5 (December 1986): 1053–1075; quote on 1067.

(42.) McCusker and Pecknold, A Boy Named Sue. See especially Kristine McCusker, “ ‘Bury Me Beneath the Willow’: Linda Parker and Definitions of Tradition on the National Barn Dance, 1932-1935,” 3–23; Jocelyn Neal, “Dancing Together: The Rhythms of Gender in the Country Dance Hall,” 132–154; and Beverly Keel, “Between Riot Grrrl and Quiet Girl: The New Women’s Movement in Country Music,” 155–177, in McCusker and Pecknold, A Boy Named Sue.

(43.) Pamela Fox, Natural Acts: Gender, Race and Rusticity in Country Music (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).

(44.) Beth Bailey, “Patsy Cline and the Problem of Respectability,” in Sweet Dreams: The World of Patsy Cline, ed. Warren R. Hofstra (Urbana–Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 67–85.

(45.) Barbara Ching, Wrong’s What I do Best: Hard Country Music and Contemporary Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 4, 6.

(46.) Aaron A. Fox, Real Country: Music and Language in Working-Class Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 23, 250–254.

(47.) Leigh Edwards, Dolly Parton and Gender Performance in Country Music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, forthcoming); Leigh Edwards, “Backwoods Barbie: Dolly Parton’s Gender Performance,” in Country Boys and Redneck Women: New Essays in Gender and Country Music, ed. Diane Pecknold and Kristine M. McCusker (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016), 189–210; quote is on 189.

(48.) Nadine Hubbs, Rednecks, Queers and Country Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014); Hubbs, “Gender Deviance and Class Rebellion in “Redneck Woman,” in Pecknold and McCusker, Country Boys and Redneck Women, 231–254; Hubbs, “‘Jolene’, Genre, and the Everyday Homoerotics of Country Music: Dolly Parton’s Loving Address of the Other Woman,” Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 19 (2015): 71–76 (see esp. 72). Hubbs points out that there are plenty of other examples of homoerotic intent in country music—in buddy songs, for instance.

(49.) Pecknold and McCusker, Country Boys and Redneck Women. The chapters in that book I refer to are Alex Dent, “ ‘Hey! If I Should Grab Ya’: ‘College Country’ and the Ruralization of Urban Brazil,” 26–43; Åse Ottosson, “Holding on to Country: Musical Moorings for Desired Masculinities in Aboriginal Australia,” 64–83; Matthew D. Sutton, “Act Naturally: Charlie Pride, Autobiography, and the ‘Accidental Career,’ ” 44–63; Diane Pecknold, “Negotiating Gender, Race and Class in Post-Civil Rights Country Music: How Linda Martell and Jeannie C. Riley Stormed the Plantation,” 146–165; Travis Stimeling, “Taylor Swift’s ‘Pitch Problem’ and the Place of Adolescent Girls in Country Music,” 84–101; and Chris Wilson, “Gender and the Nashville Songwriter: Three Songs by Victoria Banks,” 102–125. An example (in Country Boys and Redneck Women) of a scholar who limits her work by examining number-one hits exclusively is Jocelyn Neal, “Why ‘Ladies Love Country Boys’: Gender, Class and Economics in Contemporary Country Music,” 3–25.

(50.) Beverly Keel, “Sexist ‘Tomato’ Barb Launches Food Fight on Music Row,” The Tennessean, May 29, 2015, accessed January 30, 2016,

(51.) Maddie and Tae, “Girl in a Country Song,” written by Madison Marloe, Taylor Dye, and Aaron Scherz (Republic, 2004).

(52.) Charles L. Hughes, Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015); Miller, Segregating Sound. See also Diane Pecknold, ed., Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).

(53.) Black performer, writer, and producer Ted Jarrett’s autobiography reinforces Hughes’s thesis with his descriptions of the Nashville music scene in the 1950s and 1960s. See Jarrett, with Ruth White, You Can Make It if You Try: The Ted Jarrett Story of R&B in Nashville (Nashville, TN: Hillsboro Press, 2005).

(54.) Pecknold, “Introduction,” in Pecknold, Hidden in the Mix, 3; Hughes, Making Music and Making Race.

(55.) Sutton, “Act Naturally.”

(56.) I use the term “near” because Perkins was eight years younger than Big Maybelle. His musical upbringing most likely included her music.

(57.) Billboard Charts Archive, 1967, accessed June 18, 2016,; Mary A. Bufwack, “Bobbie Gentry,” in The Encyclopedia of Country Music, ed. Paul Kingsbury (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 198.

(58.) Mississippi Blues Trail, Biography for Bukka White, “Bukka White – Houston,” accessed June 18, 2016,

(59.) “Ode to Billie Joe - Bobbie Gentry (BBC Live, 1968),” YouTube video, 4:45, uploaded on August 7, 2011,

(60.) Mississippi Blues Trail, Biography for Bukka White; Bufwack, “Bobbie Gentry”; “Tammy Wynette - Ode to Billie Joe,” YouTube video, 4:20, uploaded July 19, 2010, accessed June 27, 2016,

(61.) Center for Southern Folklore and the Division of Curriculum Development, Memphis City School, “The Heritage of Black Music in Memphis: A Teaching Resource Packet” (Memphis, 1986), at the Center for Popular Music; Charlotte Greig, Icons of Black Music: A History of Photographs, 1900-2000 (San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, 1999), 106–107.

(62.) M. Allison Kibler’s book, Rank Ladies: Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), is a study of vaudeville stages and women, but it does not address issues of race. No comprehensive study of the Theater Owners Booking Association exists; and therefore, any evaluation of the cross-pollenization between white and black vaudeville can not be currently made. There is some discussion of black vaudeville in Michelle R. Scott, Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South (Urbana–Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008).