Women Breaking Barriers With the Electric Guitar in Country Music

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The twang of a guitar and the soulful lyrics of country music have been a staple of American culture for decades. Historically, this genre has been male-dominated, with male performers and male musicians leading the way. However, in recent years, a group of talented and charismatic female guitarists have emerged, breaking the barriers and creating their own unique sound. These women are adding a new flavor to country music that can only be described as electrifying. In this article, we will delve into the lives and careers of these female guitarists who have defied the odds and made their mark in the music industry. From the pioneers who paved the way to the rising stars of today, we will explore their stories and the impact they have made on country music history.

The Early Pioneers

The Early Pioneers
It’s hard to imagine modern country music without the electrifying sound of the electric guitar, but it wasn’t always that way. The country music scene was dominated by men, including male guitarists for many years. However, several female musicians have broken down those barriers with their incredible talent and made a name for themselves as pioneers in the industry. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at some of the early trailblazers who paved the way for women in country music, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Barbara Mandrell. To understand the evolution of female guitarists in country music, check out this timeline.

1. Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was one of the first women to break through the barriers of gender and race in the music industry, particularly in the genre of country music. She was a gospel singer and guitarist from Arkansas, who rose to fame in the 1930s and 1940s.

Tharpe’s music was a blend of gospel, blues, and rock and roll, which was revolutionary for the time. She would often incorporate elements of these genres into her performances, which made her a trailblazer in the industry. Her soulful voice and electrifying guitar skills were unmatched, making her a force to be reckoned with in the music world.

Some of Tharpe’s most popular songs include “Rock Me,” “That’s All,” and “Up Above My Head.” Her music was so groundbreaking that it influenced other artists, including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Johnny Cash.

Tharpe’s impact on the industry is immeasurable, as she paved the way for other female guitarists to pursue their passions in music. She was a true pioneer in the industry and an inspiration to many.

It’s worth noting that while Tharpe is widely celebrated as a gospel musician, her music also had a significant impact on country music. The blend of gospel, blues, and rock and roll that she pioneered can be heard in the work of many female country artists today.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a groundbreaking musician whose influence can still be felt in the music industry. It’s safe to say that without her, the history of country music would be very different.

If you want to learn more about other female country guitarists who broke through barriers, check out this list of top 10 female electric guitarists in country music history.

2. Barbara Mandrell

Barbara Mandrell was a trailblazer in the world of country music and guitar playing. She was born in Texas in 1948 and by the age of 11, she was already playing steel guitar for her father’s band. By the late 1970s, she was one of the most popular country music artists, and her virtuosic guitar playing was a major reason for her success.

Throughout her career, Mandrell was known for her ability to play multiple instruments, including the guitar, banjo, and saxophone. However, it was her skills on the electric guitar that truly set her apart. Her energetic and dynamic style drew influence from a variety of genres, including rock and roll and blues, making her one of the most versatile guitarists in country music.

Mandrell’s impact on female guitarists in country music cannot be overstated. She paved the way for future generations of women to step into the spotlight and showcase their own guitar-playing abilities. Today, there are countless female guitarists making waves in the country music scene, from seasoned veterans to up-and-coming artists.

If you’re interested in learning more about other female guitarists in country music, check out our article on female guitarists in country music or our list of 10 female country guitarists that you need to know.

Leading Ladies of Country Guitar

Leading Ladies Of Country Guitar
When it comes to pushing boundaries and breaking down barriers in country guitar, there have been a number of fierce and talented female musicians who have made their mark over the years. These women have not only proven their exceptional skills with the electric guitar, but they have also challenged traditional gender roles in country music. From Bonnie Raitt to Rosanne Cash, the leading ladies of country guitar have inspired generations of women to pick up a guitar and make their voices heard. Let’s take a closer look at their trailblazing contributions.

1. Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Raitt, born in 1949, is a legendary American singer, songwriter and guitarist who has been making music since the late 60s. Raitt is often credited as being one of the most influential female guitarists of all time. Her style combines blues, rock, and country influences with soulful vocals and considerable guitar skills. Raitt has released multiple critically acclaimed albums over the years, and has won 10 Grammy awards.

Here are some remarkable facts about Bonnie Raitt that showcase her incredible talent:

  • Raitt’s sound is heavily influenced by blues legends such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker.
  • She plays a 1969 Fender Stratocaster, which she has famously named “Brownie”.
  • Throughout her career, Raitt has collaborated with many notable musicians, including John Prine, Jackson Browne, and Norah Jones.
  • Raitt is also known for her activism, and has supported a variety of causes such as environmentalism, anti-nuclear advocacy, and Native American rights.
  • She appeared as a guest artist on a number of TV shows, including The Simpsons, where she played a guitar solo on the show’s theme song.

It’s clear that Bonnie Raitt has had a profound impact on country guitar music and beyond. Her bluesy guitar tones and emotive vocal delivery have earned her a place in music history, and her commitment to social justice has solidified her place as a true champion for the people. It will be intriguing to see how future generations of female guitarists will build on her pioneering work.

2. Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris is one of the leading ladies of country guitar who has made a significant contribution to this genre over the years. Her soulful voice and exceptional guitar playing skills have earned her a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Here are some notable highlights of her career:

  • The duets with Gram Parsons: Emmylou Harris’ collaboration with the late Gram Parsons was a defining moment in her career. The duo recorded several crossover hits, such as “Love Hurts” and “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning”, which showcased Harris’ heartfelt vocals and brilliant guitar picking skills.
  • Wrecking Ball: Harris’ album “Wrecking Ball” released in 1995, marked a new era in her career. Produced by Daniel Lanois, the album featured a darker and more experimental sound that challenged the traditional notions of country music. Harris’ soulful renditions of the songs won her a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
  • Collaborations: Over the years, Harris has collaborated with some of the biggest names in music, including Neil Young, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan. Her contribution to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack in 2000 further solidified her status as a legendary musician.

Emmylou Harris’ legacy as a musician, singer-songwriter, and guitarist continues to inspire a new generation of artists. Her ability to blend different genres and create a sound that is uniquely her own has made her an icon in the music industry.

3. Rosanne Cash

Rosanne Cash is another leading lady in the country music scene who has proven herself to be a force to be reckoned with on the electric guitar. With a career spanning four decades, she has amassed an impressive collection of hits and accolades that have solidified her status as one of the greats.

One of the remarkable things about Cash’s playing is her ability to seamlessly blend genres, infusing traditional country sounds with elements of rock, folk and pop. Her style is characterized by intricate fingerpicking, soulful bends and dynamic chord progressions that create a rich and textured sound.

Some of Cash’s most popular tracks that showcase her guitar skills include “Seven Year Ache” and “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me.” In these songs, she demonstrates her ability to use the guitar as a powerful storytelling tool, conveying deep emotions and narratives through her playing.

Cash has been vocal about the challenges she has faced as a woman in the male-dominated country music industry, but her persistence has paid off with numerous awards, including four Grammy wins. She has also been a champion for social causes, using her platform to advocate for issues such as gun control and the environment.

Here are some of the key highlights of Rosanne Cash’s career:

  • Her first country No. 1 hit was “Seven Year Ache” in 1981.
  • She has earned 11 No. 1 country singles throughout her career.
  • Cash has released 15 studio albums, with her most recent being “She Remembers Everything” in 2018.
  • Cash has been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame.

Rosanne Cash’s contributions to country guitar have been immense, and her legacy as a leading lady of the genre is well-deserved.

4. Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams is a singer-songwriter who has been an influential figure in country music for over three decades. Not only is she known for her powerful vocals, but she’s also a talented guitarist who has broken new ground in the industry.

One of Williams’ defining characteristics is her ability to blend genres, incorporating elements of country, rock, blues, and folk into her music. Her guitar playing is a crucial part of this, demonstrating her versatility as an artist. She’s known for her use of slide guitar, which adds a unique tone to her songs, and her fingerpicking style, which showcases her technical prowess.

Williams’ career began in the 1980s with a string of critically acclaimed albums. In 1998, she released her breakthrough album “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” which went on to win a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. The album showcased Williams’ skills as both a songwriter and a guitarist, with tracks like “Right in Time” and “Joy” featuring her distinctive guitar playing.

Table: Lucinda Williams’ Discography

Album Year
Ramblin’ on My Mind 1979
Happy Woman Blues 1980
Lucinda Williams 1988
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road 1998
Essence 2001
World Without Tears 2003
West 2007
Blessed 2011
Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone 2014
Ghosts of Highway 20 2016
Good Souls Better Angels 2020

Despite facing resistance from the industry early in her career, Williams persisted and eventually earned the respect of her peers. Her willingness to experiment with different sounds and styles has paved the way for other women in country music to do the same. Today, she continues to tour and record, inspiring a new generation of musicians to break down barriers and push the boundaries of the genre.

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The New Generation

The New Generation
As the world evolves, so does music. And with it, the stars who break down barriers and stand up for what they believe in. The realm of country music is no exception, particularly when it comes to women and the electric guitar. Today, we take a closer look at the up-and-coming musicians who are taking the reins and forging their own path in the industry. These trailblazers continue to defy expectations and reshape the genre for a new generation of fans. Let’s dive in and see what these rising stars have in store.

1. Maren Morris

When it comes to modern female country guitarists, Maren Morris is undoubtedly one of the most talented artists on the scene. Born and raised in Texas, Morris began playing guitar in her early teens, crafting her skills by playing in local bars and clubs.

Morris’s music is a fusion of classic country and modern pop, and her guitar work reflects this unique blend. She often incorporates intricate fingerpicking and soulful slide guitar into her songs, showcasing her versatility as a musician.

One of Morris’s most iconic moments as a guitarist came during her 2019 Grammy Awards performance. Clad in a stunning red gown, Morris took the stage alongside fellow musicians and performed her hit song “The Bones.” As she belted out the soulful lyrics, Morris showcased her impressive guitar skills with a dazzling solo.

Morris has also been vocal about the importance of gender equality in the music industry. In a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone, she acknowledged the challenges faced by women in the male-dominated world of country music. Despite these obstacles, Morris continues to break barriers with her guitar skills and her empowering lyrics.

Here’s a table showcasing some of Maren Morris’s notable accomplishments:

Album Release Date Awards
Hero 2016 Grammy Award for Best Country Solo Performance (My Church)
Girl 2019 ACM Award for Female Artist of the Year
CMT Music Award for Female Video of the Year (Girl)
Grammy Award for Best Country Song (Girl)

As evidenced by her Grammy wins and numerous other accolades, Maren Morris is a true powerhouse in modern country music. With her soulful voice, impressive guitar work, and commitment to promoting gender equality, Morris is a trailblazer for women in country guitar and beyond.

2. Lindsay Ell

Lindsay Ell is one of the most dynamic and skilled guitarists in the country music genre. She began playing guitar at the age of 8 and never looked back. Her mastery of the instrument has gained her recognition from both fans and peers alike.

Ell’s talent is not limited to her guitar skills though. She has an impressive vocal range and has released multiple albums, showcasing her songwriting versatility. Her most recent release, heart theory, features songs that explore various emotions and stages of grief.

Ell’s ability to fuse different genres also contributes to her unique sound. She cites influences such as Jimi Hendrix and John Mayer, and incorporates elements of rock and blues into her country music.

In addition to her music career, Ell is a huge advocate for gender equality and has spoken out about the challenges women face in the music industry. She encourages young girls to learn how to play guitar and follow their dreams.

Here is a table with some key information about Lindsay Ell:

Born: March 20, 1989
Hometown: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Albums: The Project, The Continuum Project, heart theory
Awards: Canadian Country Music Association Female Artist of the Year (2019)
Notable Collaborations: Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, Brantley Gilbert

Lindsay Ell is a true trailblazer in the country music industry, breaking barriers for women guitarists and inspiring the next generation of musicians.

3. Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist who has broken barriers in the country music industry. Born in Texas, she started playing guitar at the age of 12 and began writing her own songs. Musgraves gained recognition in 2013 with the release of her debut album, “Same Trailer Different Park,” which included the hit single “Merry Go ‘Round.”

Musgraves is known for her unique and quirky take on country music. She challenges traditional gender roles and societal norms in her lyrics and music videos. This has earned her a strong following and critical acclaim.

In terms of guitar playing, Musgraves is a proficient rhythm guitarist and often incorporates pop and rock elements into her country sound. She uses a combination of fingerpicking and strumming to create intricate chord progressions.

Here is a table highlighting some of Kacey Musgraves’ accomplishments and contributions to the country music world:

Accomplishments Contributions to Country Music
2013 CMA Award for New Artist of the Year Challenging gender roles and societal norms in lyrics and music videos
2013 Grammy Award for Best Country Song (for “Merry Go ‘Round”) Unique and quirky take on country music
2014 Grammy Award for Best Country Album (for “Same Trailer Different Park”) Incorporating pop and rock elements into her country sound
2019 Grammy Award for Album of the Year (for “Golden Hour”) Experimenting with new sounds and styles in her music

Kacey Musgraves is a trailblazer in the country music industry. Her unique sound and fearlessness in breaking traditional gender roles have paved the way for other women in country guitar.

The Future of Women in Country Guitar

The future of women in country guitar is brighter than ever before. With the paths blazed by the early pioneers and the leading ladies of country guitar, the new generation of female guitarists is taking the country music scene by storm. And it’s not just in terms of music creation, but also in terms of representation and inclusivity.

More opportunities for women in the music industry are opening up, thanks to the untiring efforts of advocates for gender equality. With more prominent representation in the music industry, there will be more support for women country artists, especially those who play guitar.

New technologies are also transforming the music industry, making it easier for women to produce music and get their work seen and heard. Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram are providing a way for female guitarists to showcase their talent to a broader audience, without being bound by traditional music industry gatekeepers. This means women can reach wider audiences around the world, building their fan base and creating demand for their music.

With the growth in online music education platforms, women who want to learn how to play guitar or improve their skills now have access to a wealth of information and resources. This democratizes the process of learning to play guitar, which was once dominated by men.

It’s clear that the future of women in country guitar is bright and full of opportunities. Female guitarists are breaking down barriers, creating music that represents their experiences and perspectives, and taking the industry by storm. As the world becomes more conscious of gender equality issues, we can hope to see even more progress in the representation, inclusion, and support for women in country guitar.


After exploring the inspiring stories of these women who have broken barriers with the electric guitar in country music, it is clear that their contributions have been invaluable to the genre. From the early pioneers, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Barbara Mandrell, to the leading ladies of country guitar, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, and Lucinda Williams, to the new generation of Maren Morris, Lindsay Ell, and Kacey Musgraves, these women have proven that gender is no obstacle when it comes to playing the electric guitar with passion and skill.

Despite facing challenges and discrimination, these trailblazers persevered and paved the way for future generations of women in country guitar. With their hard work and talent, they have shown that women can and do excel in a male-dominated industry.

However, the fight for equality and recognition is not over. The future of women in country guitar is bright, but there is still work to be done. It is important to continue to celebrate and support female musicians and to challenge stereotypes and biases that hold them back.

In conclusion, the women who have made their mark on country guitar have not only made history, but they have also inspired generations of female musicians to follow in their footsteps. They have broken barriers and shattered stereotypes, but there is still much to be accomplished. It is up to all of us to continue to support and uplift women in country guitar, and to ensure that their contributions are valued and recognized for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What inspired women to start playing the electric guitar in country music?

Women were inspired to play the electric guitar in country music by the desire to express themselves creatively and break gender barriers in a male-dominated industry.

2. Who was the first woman to play the electric guitar in country music?

The first woman to play the electric guitar in country music was Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who pioneered the use of the guitar in gospel music in the 1930s and ’40s.

3. What impact did Sister Rosetta Tharpe have on women in country music?

Sister Rosetta Tharpe inspired many women in country music to pick up the electric guitar and paved the way for future generations to break gender barriers in the music industry.

4. Who are some leading ladies of country guitar?

Some leading ladies of country guitar include Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, and Lucinda Williams.

5. How have these women impacted the country music industry?

These women have made significant contributions to country music and have helped to break gender barriers in the industry through their trailblazing use of the electric guitar.

6. Who are some new female artists making waves in country music today?

Some new female artists making waves in country music today include Maren Morris, Lindsay Ell, and Kacey Musgraves.

7. What sets these artists apart from others in the country music genre?

These artists are known for their innovative use of the electric guitar and their unique blend of country, pop, and rock influences in their music.

8. What does the future hold for women in country guitar?

The future looks bright for women in country guitar, as more and more female artists continue to break gender barriers in the music industry and inspire future generations to do the same.

9. How can aspiring female guitarists get started in country music?

Aspiring female guitarists can get started in country music by taking lessons, practicing regularly, and networking with other musicians and industry professionals.

10. What advice would you give to young women interested in pursuing a career in country guitar?

My advice would be to never give up on your dreams, work hard to develop your skills, and believe in yourself and your abilities. With determination and perseverance, anything is possible.


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!

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