Bluegrass music has been described as many things: country music, white music, hillbilly music or even immigrant music, and it is doubtful if any of these descriptions is at all accurate. It has also been described as a male dominated genre of music and certainly, in its formative years, this was very true about bluegrass.
Artists such as Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Ralph Stanley, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs dominated the scene for a long time. But women have always been part of bluegrass music since the very beginnings, for example Sally Ann Forrester playing accordion in Bill Monroe’s very first band, and perhaps the most famous of all were Alice Gerrard and Hazel Dickens who forged a pathway for women in the industry. Today there are many influential women on the bluegrass scene, starting with Alison Krauss who started life as a bluegrass singer and including pop singers Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz who, again, came through the bluegrass scene before branching out into the mainstream. Things are changing in the world of bluegrass music and women are very much a part of this thriving music form; in this blog we look at some of today’s finest women bluegrass artists.
Alison Brown has been a leading figure in bluegrass music for a long time now, a talented banjo player who has risen to the head of Compass Records. The recording label mostly covers roots revival, and Alison has driven the company forward by signing major artists of the bluegrass scene in America today. Brown actually started playing music very early and she partnered with Stuart Duncan who is still one of the most in demand artists in bluegrass today. It was Stuart Duncan’s father who actually created the partnership and encouraged it to blossom, even though Stuart was only twelve years of age at the time.
Sierra Hull was a child prodigy, and the talented mandolinist actually made her debut album when she was only ten years old. She cites, as so many bluegrass female stars do, that Alison Krauss was a big influence on her bluegrass career. Sierra Hull was fortunate enough to actually have the magnificent Krauss as a mentor in her formative years. Sierra has a latest release which is pushing the limits of bluegrass into a more minimalist music form that is kind of more thoughtful. In 2016 she actually was awarded the award for Mandolin Player of the Year by the IBMA, the feat is more remarkable as it is the very first time a woman has even been the recipient.
Dale Ann Bradley
In today’s bluegrass music scene, Dale Ann Bradley is one of the most respected artists, she actually has won the IBMA Vocalist of the Year Award five times. Bradley was born way up in the coalfields of Appalachia and her working-class roots have driven her to the very top. Her voice is quite Appalachian unique with a definite country twang to it that all the best bluegrass singers from her neck of the woods have got. Familiar with being a solo artist as well as a band member with Sister Sadie, Bradley is comfortable either way and just enjoys playing her bluegrass music.
In part two of this blog we look at even more female stars of today’s bluegrass music scene, such as Kristin Scott Benson, Melody Walker and Rebecca Frazier.