In honor of Women's History Month, I've compiled a list of the Top 10 most influential female artists of country music, and created a spotlight for each of them.
The women I've chosen are based on their total influence on other artists, record sales, and other data. I've listed them in roughly a timeline sequence.
Maybelle Carter is one third of the First Family of Country Music. She is also credited for creating what is known as the "Carter scratch" flatpicking style of guitar playing. As part of the Carter Family, as a solo artist, or with her daughters, Maybelle Carter was an inspiration to women everywhere.
Kitty Wells was the first controversial female country star with her song "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," which was an answer to the #1 hit made popular by Hank Thompson, "Wild Side of Life." Kitty was also the first female artist to have her own LP. This broke the ground for future stars like Patsy Cline, Jean Shepherd and Rose Maddox.
Patsy Cline is probably one of the most mentioned inspirations to women in country music today. Her husky, powerful vocals are what women aspire to sound like. She was one of the first women to cross over to the pop charts, doing so with the song "Walking After Midnight." She also proved that women in country were more than just window dressing. They could sell records as well as men, and sell tickets to their own shows.
Loretta Lynn is inspiring as a songwriter and performer. She married young and started having a family in her early teens, but still managed to have a career, managed by her husband, Mooney, who drove with her from radio station to radio station to promote her records. She was the first woman in country music to have fifty Top 10 hits, writing about her life and the sometimes straying ways of her husband.
Dolly Parton grew up extremely poor, but where she excelled was her performing. At the urging of a young Johnny Cash, she moved to Nashville after graduating high school, and was lucky enough to be noticed by Porter Wagoner. Porter helped build her early career, as she appeared on his show and performed with him. Dolly's songwriting is one of her greatest strengths, and her many hit records are filled with her compositions. She also delved into movies, and has had quite a few successful movies with co-stars such as Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Burt Reynolds, and others.
Tammy Wynette is another star that grew up very poor. She went to beauty school and kept a hairdresser's license all her life, just in case things didn't work out. After a bad marriage, she divorced her husband and moved to Nashville, and she finally was signed to Epic Records. Like Kitty Wells before her, she had a controversial song in "Stand By Your Man," which was released in the middle of the women's rights movement. Regardless, the song is now known as a classic. When Tammy sang, you could always hear the tear in her voice, and knew that she knew what she was singing about.
Barbara Mandrell was born to a musical family; she was reading music and playing the accordion by the age of five, and she added the steel guitar by the age of 11. She also plays the banjo and saxophone. She is one of the few females to have won the CMA Entertainer of the Year award, and she is the only one to have won it twice. She is probably best known for her popular television show, Barbara Mandrell & the Mandrell Sisters.
Tanya Tucker started her career as country singer at the young age of 13, and she is one of the few stars to be able to transition into adulthood while keeping her audience. Tanya was known as a wild child, and in her early twenties had a tempestuous relationship with country legend Glen Campbell. The relationship ended, and Tanya sought help for substance abuse problems and returned to her career, earning numerous Top 10 hits.
Emmylou Harris started as a folk singer, and later joined Gram Parsons until his death in 1973. She was signed as a solo singer, only if she could "get a hot band," which she did. That was the name of the band as well. Emmylou has one of the purist voices around, and many artists wish they could sing like her. She's collaborated with many different artists, such as Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and most recently, Mark Knopfler.
Raised on a working ranch, Reba has always known the value of hard work and she puts 110% into everything she does. She started her career singing pop country songs, but when they weren't really doing all that well, Reba suggested that her next album be an album of traditional country covers. The label agreed, and My Kind of Country became her first gold album. Reba is one of the most awarded female artists around, having won the CMA Female Vocalist award from 1984-1987, as well as picking up the CMA Entertainer of the Year award in 1986. Reba also made her mark in films, and even had a successful run on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun. Most recently, she had her own TV sitcom which ran for six seasons.