Women Who Shaped Country Guitar

Photo of author

Introduction: A Brief History of Women in Country Music and Guitar

Introduction: A Brief History Of Women In Country Music And Guitar
For years, the world of country music was largely dominated by men, and women musicians were often overlooked or underestimated. However, women have played a crucial role in shaping this genre from its very beginnings, and their contributions to country guitar cannot be ignored.

Country guitar has been an essential aspect of country music for decades, and women have been part of its history from the start. In the early days of country music, female musicians like the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers’ protégé, Elsie McWilliams, were part of the industry. However, it wasn’t until the 1940s when women began to play a more prominent role in country guitar.

Maybelle Carter, a founding member of the Carter Family, is often referred to as the “Mother of Country Guitar.” Her signature style of playing the melody on the bass strings with her thumb while strumming the chords with her fingers revolutionized country guitar, and influenced countless musicians. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an African American woman who blended gospel and blues into her country guitar, is often cited as the “Godmother of Rock n Roll.” Her contributions to both music genres laid the foundation for many artists who followed in her footsteps.

Throughout the years, female country guitarists continued to break barriers and push boundaries. Bonnie Raitt merged country with blues, soul, and rock, and became one of the most successful female musicians of all time. Emmylou Harris, a prolific songwriter and performer, added her unique style to country guitar and won countless awards for her work.

Chet Atkins, one of the most influential guitarists of all time, collaborated with female guitarists like Carol Kaye and ‘Misty’ Rowe, both of whom were trailblazers in their own right. Kaye is considered one of the most recorded bassists in history while Rowe was a skilled guitarist who played behind the scenes on many famous country songs.

Today, female country guitarists like Molly Tuttle and Valerie June continue to push boundaries and redefine what it means to be a woman in country music. Tuttle became the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year Award, and June’s unique blend of Americana and soul has earned her critical acclaim.

As we celebrate the contributions of these amazing women, it’s important to acknowledge that there are still many untold stories of female country guitarists who have shaped the genre. But by celebrating these unsung heroines, we can begin to shed light on their contributions and inspire future generations of women guitarists. To learn more about the history of women in country guitar and music, check out these links: “10 Trailblazing Women in Country Guitar Music”, “Untold Country Guitar Heroines”, and “Acoustic Female Country Guitar Players.”

The Early Pioneers: Maybelle Carter and Sister Rosetta Tharpe

The Early Pioneers: Maybelle Carter And Sister Rosetta Tharpe
When you think of country music, you might picture a rugged cowboy hat and a guitar slung over a man’s shoulder. However, the history of country guitar is full of women who paved the way for future generations. In the early days of country music, two women: Maybelle Carter and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, broke gender barriers and showed the world that women can excel at playing the guitar just as well as men. These pioneering women are a significant part of the evolution of women in country guitar and deserve recognition for their immense contributions to the genre.

Maybelle Carter: The Mother of Country Guitar

Maybelle Carter was an influential figure in country music and guitar playing, known as “The Mother of Country Guitar.” Born Maybelle Addington in Virginia in 1909, she grew up in a musical family and learned to play the guitar from her cousin. She later married into the Carter Family, one of the most influential groups in country music history. Maybelle’s distinctive style of playing, which involved using her thumb to play the melody and her fingers to create the rhythm and bass lines, revolutionized country guitar playing and influenced generations of musicians.

Maybelle’s most famous song, “Wildwood Flower,” showcases her unique guitar style and has become a classic in country music. Her contributions to the genre earned her a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970.

Maybelle was a trailblazer for women in music and guitar playing, paving the way for future generations of female musicians. Her legacy lives on in the countless artists who have been inspired by her playing and her pioneering spirit.

Fun Fact: Maybelle Carter was one of the first women inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, the same year she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Birth Name Maybelle Addington
Nickname The Mother of Country Guitar
Birthplace Virginia, USA
Style of Playing Distinctive fingerpicking style using thumb for melody and fingers for rhythm and bass lines.
Accomplishments Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. Influential figure in country music and guitar playing.

Maybelle Carter’s legacy is a testament to the important role women have played in the evolution of country music and guitar playing. She was a true pioneer in her field, breaking gender barriers and paving the way for future generations of women. To read more about other pioneering women in country guitar, check out pioneering women in country guitar.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock n Roll

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is often referred to as the Godmother of Rock n Roll for her groundbreaking contributions to the genre. She was an electric guitarist, singer, and songwriter who blended together gospel, blues, and rock to create a sound that was truly unique. Tharpe was a black woman who broke down barriers during a time when the music industry was dominated by men.

Here are some facts about Sister Rosetta Tharpe:

  • She started her career by touring with her mother in a traveling gospel show.
  • Tharpe was one of the first gospel artists to use an electric guitar, which was controversial at the time.
  • Her hit song “Strange Things Happening Every Day” was one of the first gospel songs to cross over to the secular charts.
  • Tharpe was an inspiration to many musicians, including Elvis Presley and Little Richard.
  • In 2018, she was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Tharpe’s legacy lives on today as she continues to inspire generations of musicians who strive to break down barriers and redefine the music industry.

If you want to learn more about women in country guitar, check out our article on Celebrating the Unsung Heroines of Country Guitar. We explore the evolution of acoustic country women guitarists and how they have been breaking gender barriers in the industry. You’ll also discover how women are redefining country guitar today.

Discover Top 3 Guitar Bestsellers

No products found.

The Innovators: Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris

The Innovators: Bonnie Raitt And Emmylou Harris
As we continue our journey through the history of women in country guitar, we arrive at a crucial period in the timeline. The innovators Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris represent a shift in the genre as they incorporate bluesy slide guitar and folk influences into their music. These trailblazing women were not afraid to break the traditional mold and pave the way for future generations. Let’s dive into their stories and the impact they had on the evolution of country guitar.

Bonnie Raitt: The Bluesy Slide Guitarist

When we talk about celebrating the unsung heroines of country guitar, it’s impossible not to talk about Bonnie Raitt. Raitt is a Grammy-winning bluesy slide guitarist and singer-songwriter who has been making music since the 1970s.

Bonnie Raitt started playing guitar at a young age and was influenced by the blues sound of legendary artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. She was one of the few women during her time playing slide guitar, which she not only mastered but became known for her skill.

Raitt’s music blends the elements of rock, blues, and soul, and her guitar skills add a touch of uniquely American roots sounds. With her unique style, Bonnie Raitt paved the way for other women to follow their dreams and create their own unique sound.

Raitt has inspired countless artists and continues to be a role model for women in music. She is also an activist and has used her music as a platform to raise awareness and money for various causes. Bonnie Raitt’s contributions to the world of country music and guitar make her an unsung heroine who deserves recognition and praise.

If you want to read more about women who are breaking gender barriers in country guitar, check out our article “Breaking Gender Barriers in Country Guitar.” Or, for a more in-depth look at the evolution of acoustic country women in guitar, read “Acoustic Country Women and the Evolution of Guitar.” Finally, for a celebration of women redefining country guitar, give “Women Redefining Country Guitar Today” a read.

Emmylou Harris: The Songbird Who Strummed a Guitar

Emmylou Harris is one of the most iconic women in country music, known for her heavenly voice and the way she strums her guitar. She started her career in the mid-1970s, working alongside Gram Parsons, who inspired and encouraged her to pursue a career in music. Emmylou’s style evolved over the years, incorporating elements of folk, rock, and country music, but she always remained true to her roots.

Here are some highlights of Emmylou Harris’ career:

  • Emmylou Harris released her first album, Gliding Bird, in 1969, but it was not commercially successful.
  • In 1975, she released Elite Hotel, which earned her a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
  • In 1976, she released Luxury Liner, which included covers of songs by Willie Nelson and Chuck Berry, showcasing her versatility as an artist.
  • In 1977, she collaborated with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt on the album Trio, which was a huge commercial success and earned them a Grammy Award.
  • Throughout the 1980s, she continued to release successful albums, including Roses in the Snow and The Ballad of Sally Rose.
  • In the 1990s, she experimented with different genres, collaborating with artists such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan.
  • In 2000, she released the album Red Dirt Girl, which earned her another Grammy Award and was a critical success.

Emmylou Harris’ talents go beyond her singing and guitar-playing skills. She is an accomplished songwriter and has often used her music as a platform to address social and political issues, such as immigration and the environment. Her music has touched the hearts of millions of people around the world, and her legacy continues to inspire new generations of musicians.

It is no wonder that Emmylou Harris is often referred to as the “songbird” of country music. Her voice is truly a gift that has brought joy and comfort to countless fans over the years. And, her ability to strum a guitar with grace and precision is a testament to her dedication to her craft. Emmylou Harris’s music will continue to be cherished for many years to come, as she remains a true icon of country music.

The Trailblazers: Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed’s Collaborators

The Trailblazers: Chet Atkins And Jerry Reed'S Collaborators
As we continue to celebrate the unsung heroines of country guitar, it’s important to acknowledge the trailblazers who paved the way for future generations. In this section, we’ll dive into the contributions of some of Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed’s collaborators, who helped shape country guitar into what it is today. From the most recorded bassist in history to a secret guitarist on a beloved country song, these women made their mark on the genre in a big way. Let’s explore their stories and legacies together.

Carol Kaye: The Most Recorded Bassist in History

When it comes to the unsung heroines of country guitar, Carol Kaye is a name that should not be forgotten. While she may not be a household name, the Los Angeles-based session musician is considered the most recorded bassist in history. She has played on thousands of recordings, including those of some of the biggest names in music history like Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and The Beach Boys.

1. Breaking Boundaries: Carol Kaye was born in Everett, Washington in 1935. She started playing guitar and bass as a teenager and soon formed her own all-female band. In the 1950s, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the male-dominated music industry.

2. Session Musician Extraordinaire: Carol Kaye quickly made a name for herself as a session musician, recording with a wide range of artists across different genres. Her bass lines can be heard on many famous songs, including “Son of a Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield and “The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand. She was also the bassist on many of the Beach Boys’ most famous albums, including “Pet Sounds” and “Surf’s Up.”

3. Innovator and Collaborator: Kaye was not only an immensely talented bassist but was also known for her innovative playing style. She often used a plectrum instead of playing with her fingers, which was uncommon at the time. She was also known for collaborating with other session musicians to create new and interesting sounds.

4. Advocating for Female Musicians: Throughout her career, Carol Kaye has been an advocate for female musicians. She has spoken out about the challenges women face in the industry and has worked to inspire and mentor the next generation of female musicians.

5. Legacy and Influence: Carol Kaye’s impact on music history cannot be overstated. Her bass lines have become legendary and have inspired countless other musicians. Despite her immense talent and success, Kaye remains humble and is always eager to collaborate and share her knowledge with others. She truly is an unsung heroine of country guitar and a true inspiration to musicians everywhere.

Ode to ‘Misty’ Rowe: The Secret Guitarist in ‘East Bound and Down’

If you’re a fan of the classic country song “East Bound and Down”, you’re probably familiar with the iconic guitar riff that runs throughout the track. However, what you may not know is that the guitarist responsible for that riff wasn’t a big-name studio musician, but rather an actress in the show.

Misty Rowe, best known for her role as Wendy the waitress on the 70’s TV show “Hee Haw”, was the secret guitarist behind that famous riff. In addition to her acting career, Rowe was a talented musician and songwriter, and she was invited to play guitar on the “Smokey and the Bandit” soundtrack.

In the film, Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed play the lead roles, and Reed is often credited as the guitarist on “East Bound and Down”. However, while Reed did contribute some guitar work to the track, he actually played second fiddle to Rowe.

Rowe’s guitar playing is a testament to the fact that talent can come from unexpected sources. She may not have been a professional studio musician, but her contribution to the soundtrack of one of the most beloved movies of the 1970s will not be forgotten.

Here’s a look at some of the other unsung heroines of country guitar who have made history with their talent and creativity:

Early Pioneers Innovators Trailblazers Contemporary Masters
Maybelle Carter Bonnie Raitt Carol Kaye Molly Tuttle
Sister Rosetta Tharpe Emmylou Harris Ode to ‘Misty’ Rowe Valerie June

The Contemporary Masters: Molly Tuttle and Valerie June

As traditional country music gives way to an evolving, contemporary sound, a new wave of guitarists has emerged to push the genre forward. In particular, two female musicians stand out as true masters of their craft: Molly Tuttle and Valerie June. Their approaches to guitar-playing are distinctly unique, yet both showcase an undeniable talent that has earned them notable recognition in the music industry. Let’s take a closer look at their contributions to the country guitar scene.

Molly Tuttle: The First Woman to Win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year Award

Molly Tuttle is a remarkable guitarist, songwriter and recording artist who has made history as the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year Award. Her impressive fingerpicking style and impeccable sense of rhythm has garnered her widespread recognition in the music world.

Born in California in 1993, Molly grew up surrounded by music. Her father was a music teacher who encouraged her to start playing the guitar at the age of eight. She quickly developed a strong passion for the instrument and began taking lessons and attending bluegrass festivals with her family.

Over the years, Molly honed her craft and became known for her intricate flatpicking and fingerpicking styles. She has released several albums showcasing her virtuosic guitar playing and songwriting abilities. Her album “When You’re Ready” was released in 2019 to critical acclaim and features a blend of folk, bluegrass and Americana styles.

Molly’s talent has led to numerous collaborations with other renowned musicians, including Alison Krauss and the Punch Brothers. She has also been a featured performer at prestigious venues such as the Grand Ole Opry and the Newport Folk Festival.

Her winning the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year Award in 2017 was a major breakthrough for women in the traditionally male-dominated world of bluegrass. Molly’s achievements have inspired a new generation of female guitarists to pursue their dreams and break down barriers in the music industry.

Table of Molly Tuttle’s Achievements:

Year Award
2017 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year Award
2018 Americana Music Association’s Instrumentalist of the Year Award
2019 International Folk Music Awards’ Artist of the Year Award

Molly Tuttle is a trailblazer and an inspiration to aspiring female guitarists everywhere. Her technical skills, songwriting prowess, and devotion to her craft have earned her numerous accolades and a reputation as one of the most exciting young musicians in the bluegrass and Americana scenes today.

Valerie June: The Cosmic Americana Guitarist and Soulful Songwriter

Valerie June is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who skillfully blends traditional blues, folk, and gospel with elements of indie rock and psychedelia. She has been described as a “cosmic Americana” artist, and her soulful music and intricate guitar playing have earned her critical acclaim and a dedicated fanbase.

June began playing the guitar at the age of 19, and quickly developed a unique style that incorporates fingerpicking, slide guitar, and open tunings. Her use of alternate tunings allows her to create rich, complex textures and haunting melodies that perfectly complement her poetic lyrics.

One of June’s signature techniques is the use of a thumb pick, which allows her to pick out bass lines and percussive rhythms while also playing melody and chords. This gives her music a rhythmic drive and intensity that is rare among solo acoustic performers.

In addition to her guitar playing, June is also an accomplished singer and songwriter. Her lyrics are often deeply personal and contemplative, drawing on themes of love, loss, spirituality, and social justice. She has a gift for storytelling, and her songs are filled with vivid imagery and memorable characters.

June’s unique blend of styles and influences has earned her a loyal following and critical acclaim. She has been praised for her “effortlessly beautiful” voice and her “unabashedly emotional” performances. She has also been recognized for her commitment to social justice and her efforts to use her platform to promote equality and inclusivity.

Valerie June’s music is a testament to the power of creativity and self-expression, and her guitar playing is an integral part of her unique sound. She continues to inspire and innovate, and her music serves as a reminder of the rich legacy of women in country guitar.

Style Cosmic Americana, Blues, Folk, Gospel, Indie Rock, Psychedelia
Instruments Guitar, Banjo, Ukulele, Harmonica, Lap Steel
Techniques Fingerpicking, Slide Guitar, Alternate Tunings, Thumb Pick, Percussive Rhythms
Influences Mississippi Delta Blues, Appalachian Folk Music, Gospel Hymns, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell
Themes Love, Loss, Spirituality, Social Justice, Personal Growth

Conclusion: Celebrating Women in Country Guitar Today

As we’ve seen from the amazing talent and accomplishments of the women highlighted in this article, celebrating the unsung heroines of country guitar is long overdue. These women have shaped and transformed the world of music through their incredible skills and innovative techniques, paving the way for future generations of female musicians to follow.

It’s crucial to acknowledge the obstacles that women in country music and guitar have faced and continue to face, such as sexist attitudes, lack of representation, and limited opportunities. However, it’s equally important to recognize the progress that has been made and the incredible contributions that women have made to the genre.

Today, there are even more talented and innovative women making their mark in country guitar, from veteran performers like Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves to up-and-comers like Tenille Townes and Reyna Roberts. These artists and many more are reshaping the industry, bringing diverse sounds and stories to audiences worldwide.

Thus, it’s necessary to continue advocating for gender equality in country music and to support and amplify the voices and talents of women in the genre. By celebrating and uplifting the unsung heroines of country guitar, we can help to create a more inclusive and equitable industry for all.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are some of the earliest female pioneers of country guitar?

Maybelle Carter and Sister Rosetta Tharpe are often credited with paving the way for women in country guitar and rock n roll, respectively.

What is Maybelle Carter known for in the world of country guitar?

Maybelle Carter, also known as “The Mother of Country Guitar,” developed a unique style of playing melody on the bass strings while strumming a rhythm on the treble strings, which became known as the “Carter Scratch.”

What title does Sister Rosetta Tharpe hold in rock n roll history?

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is often referred to as the “Godmother of Rock n Roll” for her pioneering guitar and gospel-infused music that influenced many of rock’s greatest legends.

Who are some of the more contemporary women making waves in country guitar?

Molly Tuttle, the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year Award, and Valerie June, a cosmic Americana guitarist and soulful songwriter, are two of the most influential women in modern country guitar.

What makes Bonnie Raitt’s guitar-playing so unique?

Bonnie Raitt is known for her bluesy slide guitar playing, which is characterized by sliding a glass or metal tube over the strings to produce distinctive sounds and effects.

How did Emmylou Harris incorporate guitar into her music?

Emmylou Harris was a songwriter and performer who often strummed the guitar to accompany her vocals, which were known for their purity and clarity.

Who are some trailblazers in country guitar who collaborated with Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed?

Carol Kaye, the most recorded bassist in history, and Misty Rowe, the secret guitarist in “East Bound and Down,” are two female musicians who worked with Atkins and Reed to create iconic country guitar music.

What accolade did Molly Tuttle achieve as a female guitarist in country music?

Molly Tuttle made history by becoming the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year Award, a prestigious honor in the world of country guitar.

How does Valerie June’s music differ from traditional country guitar?

Valerie June, a cosmic Americana guitarist and soulful songwriter, incorporates a variety of diverse musical influences into her music, blending sounds from folk, blues, and rock to create a unique style that defies traditional country guitar conventions.

What is the significance of celebrating unsung heroines of country guitar history?

By recognizing the contributions of women to the history of country guitar, we can shed light on these often-overlooked talents and offer inspiring role models for future generations of women musicians to look up to and draw from.


About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

Leave a Comment