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Women’s History Spotlight: Rhonda Vincent, Rissi Palmer, and More

Mar 15, 2024

Women's History Spotlight: Rhonda Vincent, Rissi Palmer, and More

March is Women’s History Month, and BGS, Good Country, and Real Roots Radio have partnered to highlight a variety of our favorite women in country, bluegrass, and roots music with our Women’s History Spotlight.

Each weekday in March at 11AM Eastern (8AM Pacific) on Real Roots Radio, host Daniel Mullins will be celebrating a powerful woman in roots music during the Women’s History Spotlight segment of The Daniel Mullins Midday Music Spectacular. You can listen to Real Roots Radio online 24/7 or via their FREE app for smartphones or tablets.

Then, we will have a Friday recap here on BGS featuring the artists highlighted throughout the previous week. No list is comprehensive, but we hope to feature some familiar favorites as well as some trailblazers whose music and impact might not be as familiar to you.

This week’s edition of our Women’s History Spotlight features musicians and artists like Jean Shepard, Rissi Palmer, Tammy Wynette, Rhonda Vincent, and Leona Williams. Tune in next week for more accomplished and impactful women of roots music!

Jean Shepard

Women's History Spotlight: Rhonda Vincent, Rissi Palmer, and More

Jean Shepard was a boss. She was the first female country artist to have a million-selling single after World War II with the smash hit, “Dear John Letter” (featuring Ferlin Husky), which was also a Top 5 hit on the Billboard Pop charts. Her debut album, Songs of A Love Affair, may very well be country music’s first concept album – and certainly the first by a female country artist. Her feisty spirit came across in her honky-tonk sound.

Tall tales abound about Jean’s moxy, including her being the only artist on a big package tour who was brave enough to call out George Jones for his drunkenness embarrassing the entire troupe (supposedly, he sobered up quick rather than face her wrath again). Her straight ahead country sound can be heard on such hits as “Slippin’ Away,” “Second Fiddle (To An Old Guitar),” “A Satisfied Mind,” and more.

In a career spanning seven different decades, she was the first female Grand Ole Opry member to remain active for 60 consecutive years, and she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011 (decades late according to some, myself included). Jean married fellow country star Hawkshaw Hawkins in 1960, and was widowed after only three years of marriage as Hawkshaw passed away in the same plane crash that took the lives of Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas. She would remarry to Benny Birchfield (who appeared on countless classic recordings by The Osborne Brothers), and they would be a quintessential country couple until her passing in 2016.


Rissi Palmer

Women's History Spotlight: Rhonda Vincent, Rissi Palmer, and More

In 2007, Rissi Palmer ended a 20 year drought, during which a woman African-American country artist had not appeared on the country charts. Her debut single, the catchy as heck “Country Girl,” marked the occasion and since then she has continued to be an advocate for Black women in country music spaces. The Pittsburgh native was largely influenced by Patsy Cline (whose “Leavin’ On Your Mind” was beautifully covered by Palmer on her debut album). For over a decade and a half, she has been a leader for Black voices in country, illuminating the stories of Black country artists — past and present — with her Apple Music Radio show, Color Me Country, named after the debut album of country trailblazer Linda Martell, who Beyoncé recently just overtook as the highest charting African-American woman on the Billboard country charts. Palmer’s most personal song, “You Were Here” has encouraged women worldwide, as it deals openly and honestly with miscarriage.

“This song was written for and to the child I lost at 3 months pregnant in the Summer of 2018, who would have been named Sage. I dedicate this song to anyone who has suffered a miscarriage or loss of any kind. You aren’t alone…” — Rissi Palmer


Tammy Wynette

Women's History Spotlight: Rhonda Vincent, Rissi Palmer, and More

Known was “The First Lady of Country Music,” Tammy Wynette’s life was filled with tragic twists and turns. Born Virginia Wynette Pugh in Itawamba County, Mississippi, she became a massive country music star shortly following the release of her debut single, “Apartment No. 9.” Her working relationship with producer Billy Sherrill (who came up with the stage name “Tammy” and paired it with her middle name, Wynette) was one of the most fruitful artist-producer pairings in the country music history, resulting in such massive hits as “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” and dozens more.

Her signature song, “Stand By Your Man,” was viewed as an anti-feminist anthem when it was released. Topping the country charts and reaching the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, the popularity of “Stand By Your Man” catapulted Wynette’s career to another level, including Grand Ole Opry membership and a slew of awards. Ironically, the “Stand By Your Man” singer’s personal life was tabloid fodder for decades, as she was married five times (including famously to George Jones, with whom she released some of the most iconic country duet hits of all time).

Tragically, the public stigma of having been divorced four times was a contributing factor to her not leaving her last husband, George Richey. Wynette’s toxic relationship with Richey resulted in her (presumably) faking her own kidnapping to cover up signs of abuse, expedited her decline into drug abuse, and ended with her mysterious passing at only 55 years of age. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1998, the same year as her passing.


Rhonda Vincent

Women's History Spotlight: Rhonda Vincent, Rissi Palmer, and More

The undisputed “Queen of Bluegrass,” Rhonda Vincent grew up performing with her family band, The Sally Mountain Show. This Missouri family band performed frequently at Silver Dollar City and was a popular bluegrass festival act, also including Rhonda’s younger brother, Darrin Vincent of Dailey & Vincent. In the 1980s, she would be hired by country music legend Jim Ed Brown. (When she went on the road with Jim Ed Brown, The Sally Mountain Show hired a young Illinois girl named Alison Krauss to fill Rhonda’s shows for their summer festival schedule.)

Rhonda would release some solo bluegrass projects for Rebel Records in the early 1990s before signing a country deal with Giant Records. Her country records in the mid-’90s are phenomenal, but unfortunately for Rhonda, the fickle winds of music industry trends shifted to a more pop sound at the same time she was releasing these great traditional country records, resulting in a lack of commercial success. As the new millennium dawned, Rhonda Vincent triumphantly returned to bluegrass in 2000 with the release of Back Home Again on Rounder Records, and hasn’t looked back.

The All-American Bluegrass Girl has certainly been one of the genre’s biggest stars for the last few decades, with no signs of slowing down, winning her first Grammy and joining the Grand Ole Opry in recent years. She is also a popular collaboration partner both inside and outside of bluegrass, including recordings with Gene Watson, Daryle Singletary, Cody Johnson, Dolly Parton, Bobby Osborne, and many more. Her influence is felt all over bluegrass — heck, one of the most popular bluegrass Instagram accounts, Bluegrass Barbie, is practically a Rhonda Vincent stan account, and we’re here for it.

Bluegrass fans are blessed to live in a time where this future member of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame is still in her prime – enjoy it because your future great-grandchildren will want to hear about it someday.

See if you can recognize the future superstar that makes a brief appearance in this 2003 Rhonda Vincent music video.


Leona Williams

Women's History Spotlight: Rhonda Vincent, Rissi Palmer, and More

Another Missouri gal, Leona Williams is one of the best traditional country singers with whom you may not be as familiar. She has been making country music for over 65 years! Early in her career, she played bass and sang backup on the road with Loretta Lynn, before releasing her own solo records. She had modest success with “Country Girl With Hot Pants On” and “Once More,” but her signature song, the now classic, “Yes Ma’am, He Found Me In A Honky Tonk,” never charted.

Leona also became the first female country artist to release a live prison album with 1976’s San Quentin’s First Lady. Many may remember Leona for her duet recordings with Merle Haggard (like “The Bull and The Beaver”); they were married for five years. Leona penned some major hits for her ex-husband, like “Some Day When Things Are Good” and “You Take Me For Granted,” the latter of which she supposedly wrote about her rocky relationship with The Hag and sang to him to express how she was feeling. She also wrote hits for Connie Smith and Loretta Lynn. Leona continues to record and tour. Having seen her in concert just a few years ago, be sure to catch her live show if you are in need of pure country music from a living legend!

Last week we included a bonus video of Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl. No beloved Pixar characters are included this week, but hopefully Tammy Wynette’s guest appearance with The KLF in the hit music video, “Justified & Ancient,” will suffice:


 

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Women's History Spotlight: Rhonda Vincent, Rissi Palmer, and More
Women's History Spotlight: Rhonda Vincent, Rissi Palmer, and More