It is time to turn back the musical clock and look at a few female singers who hugely made a remarkable impact on country music. Some of the prime selling and most prevalent singers in country music are women. With their earnest lyrics, strong vocal range, and charming traits, these female country singers are many country music fans’ preferred vocalists. So, who are the classic female country music singers who left a permanent mark on the industry? Who are the women who continually changed country and western music? When we mean classic, we mean those artists who recorded prior to the mid-1980s. These country ladies helped pave the way for the today’s top female country singers. Women like Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, and Dolly Parton are responsible for early hits that made lasting influences for other girl country singers. These women are the stars we know now as legends. There are many more. Sadly, most of them are no longer played on the radio, except during the oldies sessions.
Today, we feature ten out of the many influential country music female artists. However, it does not mean the others, who are not on our list are not giants in their own rights. It simply means a list of ten cannot cover every woman’s contributions to country music.
Dolly Parton, “Coat of Many Colors”
Dolly Parton is a much-loved cultural icon whose powerful voice, songwriting and character have won the hearts of both country and pop music fans for decades. She has also performed in an array of screen projects. After high school, she relocated to Nashville to follow her dream for music. Fortunately, she found success with country star Porter Wagoner, before boarding on a solo career marked by her hit songs. The songs included are “Applejack”, “Joshua,” “Jolene,” “The Bargain Store,” “I Will Always Love You,” “Here You Come Again,” and “9 to 5“ and among many others. Parton is also a highly skilled singer-songwriter known for kind stories and unique vocals. She has won many major awards and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999. She has also played the lead in films like 9 to 5 and Steel Magnolias. Moreover, Parton opened her Dollywood theme park in 1986.
One of her signature songs is “Coat of Many Colors”. Out of the thousands of songs she has written in her lifetime, this one is her favorite. “Coat of Many Colors” is more than a song to her. It is an attitude, a philosophy. Parton described the song as something that speaks about family. It is also against bullying. The song lets people know that we should embrace one another for who and what we are, and to celebrate our dissimilarities. Personally, the song is a story from her childhood, about a little-ragged coat that her mother made for her. Her mother made her proud of the coat by telling her the story of Joseph from the Bible. Do you know what Dolly Parton’s dream is? She once said,
“My dream was to make as many people happy as I could in this life.”
Loretta Lynn, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”
Loretta Lynn is a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter not only known for ‘’Coal Miner’s Daughter” but also for many country songs about wives, mothers, and the everyday struggles of women. In October 1972, Lynn became the first woman to win the Entertainer of the Year prize at the Country Music Association Awards. Awards. Lynn became a mainstay on the country charts after landing a top ten hit with the rightly named “Success.” Writing tracks that were often factual and autobiographical, she wrote the hit song “Coal Miner’s Daughter“. She later published a book by the same name, seeing her life story portrayed in an Oscar-nominated film. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Lynn had a slew of hits that comprised the chart-toppers “Fist City,” “Women of the World (Leave My World Alone), “One’s on the Way,” “Trouble in Paradise” and “She’s Got You,” as well as an array of popular collaborations with Conway Twitty.
A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Loretta Lynn revived her career in 2004 with the Grammy-winning Van Lear Rose, produced by Jack White. Her “The Story of My Life,” was the final track in this album. It gives short, amusing climaxes of her personal history and career. Later on, this success was followed by the 2016 album Full Circle. Now, for as long as Loretta can, she is still out there writing songs. The coal miner’s daughter has really had one heck of a journey. Behind this strong-faced woman is a humble heart.
Tammy Wynette, “Stand By Your Man”
Tammy Wynette was a Grammy Award-winning country music singer who chronicled the hit “Stand By Your Man”. She was born on May 5, 1942, and by 1965, she was a divorced mother of three working at a beauty salon in Memphis. After performing on The Porter Wagoner Show, she moved to Nashville and signed to Epic Records. Her best-known song at that time was “Stand By Your Man.”
In addition to an affluent solo career, Wynette was known for her partnerships with other country artists. Her most distinguished partner was George Jones, whom she married. Jones adopted Wynette’s three children and with his three from an earlier marriage, they had a large extended family. The two recorded ten albums together and many of their songs became chart-toppers, including “Take Me,” “We Go Together,” “We’re Gonna Hold On,” and “We Loved It Away”. Nevertheless, their songs unified them only on stage and the duet ended their squally marriage in 1975. They sustained to intermittently record over the next two decades.
Between the 70s and 80s, Wynette’s music career continuously ran with the releases of a lot of her albums. In the early 1990s, Wynette collaborated with the British pop group KLF to create the international dance hit “Justified and Ancient”. Moreover, she teamed-up with country superstars Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn for the album Honky Tonk Angels, in 1993. In 1995, the album One cleared Wynette’s last recording with ex-husband, George Jones.
All throughout the 1990s, Wynette was going in and out of the hospital. She died from a blood clot on April 6, 1998, at the age of 55. Later that year, she was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Patsy Cline, “Crazy”
Patsy Cline‘s career was in full swing, with top forty hits and national concert tours, when she was killed in a plane crash at the age of 30. Her pleasing soprano has been contended not only by country singers like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton but also by pop singers like Linda Ronstadt. Cline took up the piano at age eight but did not begin singing until her teens. She won a trip to Nashville through an audition, in 1948. Her first record was “Walkin’ After Midnight,” which was both a country and pop hit, in 1957.
She was soon one of country music’s prime stars. Despite her several country hits, she wanted a broader audience and declined to be lumbered with a hillbilly or cowgirl image. Under Bradley’s direction, she came to exemplify the smooth, chic new Nashville sound. “I Fall to Pieces“ was a pop hit in 1961, followed later that year by “Crazy”, song written by a then little-known writer named Willie Nelson.
Emmylou Harris, “Together Again”
During the ’70s Emmylou Harris‘ strong, lamenting soprano made her a country hitmaker, and the neotraditionalist provisions on her records appealed to rock & folk fans as well. A fruitful performer, Harris has unrelentingly garnered courtesy and admiration for her work, which has been developed by excellent support and collaborations ranging from Gram Parsons to Bruce Springsteen to Lucinda Williams.
Her top-selling album was Elite Hotel, in 1976. Fastened by the success of two top one hits, “Together Again” and “Sweet Dreams”, Elite Hotel earned Harris a Grammy Award for Best Country Female Vocal Performance and marked her advancement into the top ranks of country-folk performers.
Harris basically cut her ties to the Nashville hit mill when she released her 1995 album, Wrecking Ball. She has always pressed country music’s limits, but nothing in her set expected such a departure. Produced by Daniel Lanois and recorded mainly with rock musicians, including U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr., the album features unembellished, eerie renditions of songs written by Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Earle, and other lesser-known artists. Critics welcomed the project as a victory of modernization even as it estranged fans of Harris’ more country-sounding work. It won the 1995 Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
Barbara Mandrell, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”
Having won numerous awards throughout her career, Barbara Mandrell is one of the most decorated female artists in country music. Among her accolades were seven American Music Awards and nine Country Music Awards. In addition to that, she prides herself being the only female country artist to win the CMA Entertainer of the Year award twice. In 2009, Mandrell was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, an achievement that her father had always wanted for her.
Taking aside the honors she holds, Mandrell’s musical career can be summarized through her album The Ultimate Collection. The said record consists of 23 selections, almost all of them were the biggest hits of the singer. Speaking of biggest hits, of course, her most notable single “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool“ shouldn’t be missed. The song, which features George Jones, reached instant commercial success upon its release. Topping the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart on July 4, 1981, it became one of Mandrell’s signature songs. That same year, the song received a nomination for Single of the Year award from both the ACM and CMA Awards organizations. While the record did not win the title, it helped Mandrell to earn the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year.
The song came out at the time neo-country, a dance-focused form of country music was growing in popularity. Also, the movie, Urban Cowboy, helped propel the music genre’s fame. Mandrell describes how authentic her relationship with country music is through the song. Her association with it has been part of a long practice and not merely of a cool stuff.
Lynn Anderson, “Rose Garden”
Lynn Anderson became one of the most popular and successful country music stars of the 1970s. Thanks to her regular appearances on national television as well as her crossover charm which contributed a lot to this victory. Dubbed as The Great Lady of Country Music, Anderson scored 12 No. 1 singles and won multiple awards from various organizations. The Academy of Country Music named her Top Female Vocalist twice while earning the title Female Vocalist of the Year from the Country Music Association. What else? She won a Grammy Award and gained a total of seven nominations. Anderson also reaped a People’s Choice Award and an American Music Award. Ranked No. 13 music artist of the 1970s, the singer became the highest ranking country artist who’s not yet included in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Anderson’s signature song was “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden” or simply “Rose Garden.” Penned by Joe Smith in 1969, the song remains one of the most successful country crossover hits of all time. Apart from topping the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1970, the single also charted in different countries. Hence, becoming a major pop hit internationally. The singer believes that “Rose Garden” came out just at the right time.
“People were trying to recover from the Vietnam years. The message in the song—that if you just take hold of life and go ahead, you can make something out of nothing—people just took to that.”
Kitty Wells, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels“
Kitty Wells began singing during her teenage years. However, the young star didn’t achieve much success back then. Her big break came when she turned 33. It was in 1952 when she scored her first major hit, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” With this, she became the first female solo artist to top the country chart. The song was a response to Hank Thompson’s hit, “The Wild Side of Life.” While the song got banned by the Grand Ole Opry, it became a million-selling single. Its success proved the availability of a market for country songs from a woman’s point-of-view. Likewise, this opened doors for aspiring future female country singers.
Over the next two decades, Wells went on recording more country hits. Her last chart-topper hit was the 1961 record, “Heartbreak USA.” In 1976, the singer won induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Her work as a pioneer for women in country music paid off. After almost two decades, she took home the Lifetime Achievement Award, a special Grammy honor. Also, she continued touring until her retirement in 2000.
Dottie West, “Here Comes My Baby”
Considered as one of country music’s most influential and groundbreaking female artists was Dottie West. The singer-songwriter held such prestigious reputation along with her friends and fellow country stars, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. Before having her biggest break as a recording artist, West wrote a song called “Is This Me?” This became a charting hit for Jim Reeves. Then, she recorded her self-penned song “Here Comes My Baby” which earned West her first Top 10 single. Furthermore, she won a Grammy Award for it becoming the first female country artist to hold such title in 1965. With this achievement, the singer was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry cast.
West had been paired with other country stars including Don Gibson, Jimmy Dean, and Kenny Rogers. She and Gibson had a successful duet hit, “Rings of Gold” peaking at No. 2 on the chart. Moreover, her pairing with Rogers was more fruitful having produced a series of chart-topping duet hits. In 1973, another self-penned tune of hers called “Country Sunshine” became a pop-crossover success. Originally a jingle written for Coca-Cola commercial, the song won the prestigious Clio Advertising award while earning two Grammy Award nominations. Because of the song’s success, she was dubbed as the Country Sunshine girl. As a solo artist, West scored her No. 1 song with “A Lesson in Leavin’” in 1980. This marked the most successful period in her career.
Donna Fargo, “Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”
Donna Fargo was the fifth most successful female country artist of the ‘70s. But before she began singing, Fargo was a high school teacher. She was teaching at Northview High School in Covina, California by day and performing at local clubs by night. In 1969, the Academy of Country Music Awards named Fargo as the Top New Female Vocalist. Her self-penned tune, “Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” reached No. 1 on Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1972. On that same year, her first big hit made the singer decided to quit teaching. Subsequently, the infectiously upbeat song earned Fargo a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
Her follow-up No. 1 single, “Funny Face,” was even a bigger crossover hit reaching Top 5 on the pop chart. In the succeeding years, the singer went on recording more hits that topped the country charts including the songs, “Superman,” “You Were Always There,” and “You Can’t Be a Beacon If Your Light Don’t Shine.” In the 1980’s, Fargo’s career started to wane following her multiple sclerosis diagnosis. However, while recovering, the singer continued to record songs and albums throughout this decade. In fact, two of her singles during this period still managed to reach the chart’s Top 30.
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