Bluegrass is often maligned either as one of the whitest American music genres, or one of the most male-dominated. Certainly, the main foundational figures of bluegrass were all men such as Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Jimmy Martin, Ralph Stanley. Nevertheless, women have played a significant part of bluegrass music from the very beginning.
Let’s take Sally Ann Forrester who played accordion in Bill Monroe’s first band, and later with exceptional pioneers such as Louise Scruggs, Earl’s wife and a powerful businesswoman in the bluegrass music industry. Then we have Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, a duo most often quoted as paving the way for women in bluegrass music.
Today, it’s not as hard to point to powerful and hugely successful women in bluegrass music, from Alison Krauss who has received more Grammy nominations than any other female artist, to popular Americana artists like Sierra Hull, Sarah Jarosz or Sara Watkins, both of whom emerged in the bluegrass scene at young ages.
Let’s not forget that here is the southern hemisphere we have New Zealand’s Hot Diggity featuring Deborah Mackenzie, Jenine Abarbanel, Heather Carrigan, Sue Drake and Slávka Franclíková.
Read more of this amazing article here.
We also have Wayward Angles from Queensland featuring Kay Armstrong on banjo, Jody Bell on mandolin, Brenda “Lee” Kelly on guitar and Anne-Marie Lawton on double bass.
Women have always had a place in bluegrass, this has never been an issue. And I certainly hope “white” isn’t being used in a negative context here.
Just to be clear…..No, white is not used in a negative context in bluegrass music… I believe it’s purely a statistical observation of the very few black folk who actually participate in comparison to other races. Bill Monroe the father of the Bluegrass Music Genre gave cited Arnold Shultz, an African American fiddler and guitarist, for influencing Monroe’s style of playing. And the forerunner of the banjo as we know it was brought to America by black slaves. Perhaps it’s all just a matter of preference in style… I don’t know. I believe everyone on the scene would like more people black and white and young people participating in Bluegrass Music … music is for everyone!
I don’t believe that there is, or ever has been, a glass ceiling for women to break through in the bluegrass music scene. However I have no doubt that here in the USA the bluegrass scene is very white and there’s no doubt that bluegrass festivals here are a gathering of senior citizens.