On The Air: The First Ladies of Country Music | TheUnion.com

On The Air: The First Ladies of Country Music

T.J. Meekins
Special to Prospector


WHAT: “The First Ladies of Country Music,” with hosts T.J. Meekins and Kim Rogers, featuring historic songs and intimate stories of leading women country music artists

WHEN: Saturday, Oct.19, 2 to 5 p.m.

WHERE: KVMR 89.5 FM, Truckee 105.1 FM, kvmr.org streaming

INFO: 530-265-9073 or kvmr.org

If you liked Ken Burns’ recent Country Music series on PBS, you may just love T.J. Meekins and Kim Rogers’ intimate and entertaining look at “The First Ladies of Country Music,” featuring the top 10 country women artists of all time, when it airs this Saturday, Oct. 19, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on KVMR 89.5 FM and kvmr.org streaming. Here’s a preview:

From the birth of the country music business, the lives and songs of female artists have paralleled the story of the working women of America and given voice to their concerns. The talented performers who earned a place among the First Ladies of Country Music fought a long struggle for recognition and equal opportunity on the stage and in the studio.

Among the very first, and without doubt, the most influential voices ever recorded, were Sara and Maybelle Carter, from the coal-country mountains of western Virginia. The sisters-in-law sang songs about sorrow and loss: the passing of the old ways of life and the longing for home felt by Southerners transplanted by the hard times of the Great Depression to the big manufacturing cities of the Midwest and the fruit orchards of California.

It was important to their fans that the Carters were a family when family ties were being broken by economic necessity. The failure of Sara Carter’s marriage to A.P. Carter and their unhappy divorce was a closely-kept secret for many years.

The Carters worked hard at their music to satisfy the insatiable demands of their record producer, Ralph Peer, who paid them a mere $75 per song and made them stingy deals on royalties. He laughed at their business naiveté: “These hillbillies think it’s manna from heaven.”

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World War II changed the face of America. While the menfolk went to war, women went to work and found independence and new self-confidence. Then when the boys came home and women were forced back into traditional roles of motherhood and domestic servitude, rebellion ensued.

The females weren’t buying into the old values anymore. A battle between the sexes simmered and divorce rates soared. A new kind of country song was needed, and Honky Tonk music emerged with its hard edged, electrified sound and its themes of drinking and betrayal.

Kitty Wells’s phenomenal success “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels,” defended the woman’s point of view. Her scalding lyrics – “it’s because there always was a man to blame” – transformed her from the “girl singer” with her husband’s band to a Honky Tonk Queen in her own right.

But Kitty’s success was immediately corralled and de-horned by the Nashville music establishment. Roy Acuff told her husband, Johnny Wright, “Don’t ever headline a show with a woman. It won’t ever work, because people just don’t go for women.” A conservative public image was carefully crafted for her by Johnny, who chose her songs and her stage attire.

As the 1950s dawned, Nashville doubled down on a hard line against female performers. Deejays never played two records by women in a row. Record labels didn’t invest in women, who they believed would just give up their careers for marriage and pregnancy. It would take another thirty years to convince Music City that a successful woman was more than an anomaly.

The phenomenal career of Dolly Parton is the metaphorical full moon of the country music business, the complete expansion of what the Carters began so long ago. Her music, drawn from her real roots in folk tradition and her struggles for recognition as a female artist, recaps the whole story of women in country music.


Dolly’s personal fortune is estimated at half a billion Dolly dollars. Her theme-park empire, The Dollywood Company, includes a gigantic resort hotel, a water fun-park, 88 luxurious “rustic cabins” with views of the Great Smokies, and a theater company called Dolly Parton’s Stampede: “an extraordinary dinner show with 32 magnificent horses and a cast of top-notch riders….(to) thrill you with daring feats of trick riding and competition, pitting North against South in a friendly and fun rivalry.”

Dolly’s long list of honors and triumphs would make a book of their own. She has earned every conceivable award and honor for music and film and philanthropy – she is the only human being to be awarded the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. This month Nashville is celebrating Dolly’s 50 years in the music business with an extravaganza of radio programming, concerts, and exhibits.

Dolly’s standing at the top of the world is a long, long way from the Carter Family’s first recordings in 1927. Although the Carters sold more than 10 million records by 1954, they received very little recognition from the music industry during their lifetimes.

In 1966 at the Music City News Awards, Maybelle Carter was lured to the speaker’s podium with a cover story that she was going to present to someone else. Instead, Maybelle was given a trophy that read “The Mother of Country Music.” She wept openly and confessed that it was her first award in 39 years in the music business.

Listen this Saturday 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on KVMR 89.5 FM for more intimate stories, like Patsy Cline’s warm-hearted generosity toward her potential rivals, Tammy Wynette’s front-page run-ins with political first ladies Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan, and the stormy marriage of Loretta and Doolittle Lynn that Loretta calls “the hardest and greatest love story of all time.” And best of all, hear the classic recordings that made them the First Ladies of Country Music.


It’s a reunion of sorts as Patricia Smith, original host of KVMR’s “Cannabis Crusades”, returns as a guest on the station’s current marijuana policy program, “Higher Frequency” this Friday at noon. Noted rapscallion Martin Webb, author of “Please Don’t Read This Column”, will also magically appear.

“Abbey Road at 50” will examine the classic Beatles album and also examine other autumn 1969 music, considered one of the best seasons ever for rock music. Mark Leviton hosts the special 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18.

Larry Hillberg will feature tours of the 16-to-1 Mine during “Backroads” this Saturday 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.

On a special edition of “Moonlighting” Saturday at 5 p.m., Jeff Wright examines the many musical and production facets of the career of Don Was (“Was Not Was”).

Non-profit, non-commercial community radio station KVMR 89.5 FM is currently holding its fall membership drive. Listeners and supporters can donate online at kvmr.org or by calling 530/265-9555 or 530/265-9073 ext. 1003. Complete schedule, archives and information is available at kvmr.org.

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