'Woman Walk the Line' Honors Country Legends

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From Loretta Lynn to Emmylou Harris, country music is full of influential women whose songs have made a profound impact on their audience.   Recognizing that, Cleveland native Holly Gleason asked a group of award-winning female writers to compose essays about the women of country music who changed their lives, for the new book - Woman Walk the Line.  


Holly Gleason [photo: Allister Ann]

The book's first chapter is about the matriarch of the legendary Carter Family - Mother Maybelle Carter. Gleason chose NPR contributor Caryn Rose to write an essay about how she came to discover Carter's music while singing around a campfire as a girl.

"For Caryn, she knew The Carter Family songs and Maybelle Carter from going to summer camp and never thinking about where the music came from," Gleason said.  "But as she got older...she realized not only did Maybelle basically forge a way to play the guitar, she went ahead and when [Carter family patriarch] A.P. Carter couldn't do it anymore she just took over the family business."

Gleason contributed her own essay about country singer Tanya Tucker who was marketed in such a way that it initially turned off Gleason before she ever heard the music.

"It was really kind of soft-core porn.  I didn't know that's what it was when I saw the ads in Seventeen Magazine," Gleason says of the 1978 album TNT featuring a provocatively posed Tucker in tight, leather pants.

One of the surprises in the book is a chapter dedicated to piano player Lil Hardin who's best known for her jazz playing with her husband Louis Armstrong.

But Gleason was surprised to learn from best-selling author and songwriter Alice Randall, that Hardin played country music too.  While doing research for a Ken Burns documentary, Randall discovered that Hardin played with country music icon Jimmie Rodgers.

"She was the piano player on [Rodgers' classic] 'Blue Yodel #9," Gleason said.

Like all the women writers who contributed to the book, Gleason said that Randall connected to her subject's story.  In Randall's case, it was Lil Hardin's experience as an African-American woman working in the country music business.

"Alice was the first black woman to have a number one record for a song called 'XXX's and OOO's' [1994] which Trisha Yearwood cut," Gleason said.

Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives is out now from The University of Texas Press.

 

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