A Tomato Salad: Authenticity, Legitimacy and Creating the Memory of Women in the Country Music Industry

Marissa Stangl

February 10, 2019, the room was quiet as Alicia Keys made the announcement that almost all wait for at the Grammy Awards: Album of the Year. “Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves!” was the shocking announcement.

A country album being nominated for Album of the Year was shocking enough but winning was a shock to all. What’s even more shocking was that country radio rarely, if ever, played this award-winning album on any of its stations. The numerous wins pushed Musgraves as one of the leading female country artists. Before this album, Musgraves had an avid fan base but hardly ever received the accolades and recognition from the country music industry. In fact, the country music industry hardly recognizes their female performers. As Keith Hill, a leading radio consultant said, “if you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out...Trust me, I play great female records and we've got some right now; they're just not the lettuce in our salad....The tomatoes of our salad are the females''. He goes on to say that country music can be compared to a salad and the bulk of that salad is made up of male artists and the female artists are like the tomatoes, you sprinkle some tomatoes in there, but you never want more tomatoes to lettuce. As the genre of country music began to take shape and became more than songs from the south, there came a need to start recording the history of country music. Dr. Richard Patterson wrote, "one of the best ways to show that a field exists is to construct its past”. As the Country Music Association worked to create the Country Music Hall of Fame (CMHOF), they included on the induction panel, both historians and those with a historical perspective on country music, demonstrating a great concern for detail regarding the genre's past. Induction in the CMHOF is one of the most prestigious honors in the country music industry and only the best artists are inducted. Out of the 60 years that the CMHOF has existed, only 14% of the inductees are women.
A Tomato Salad: Authenticity, Legitimacy and Creating the Memory of Women in the Country Music Industry
Kacey Musgraves

The Historians Magazine

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A Tomato Salad: Authenticity, Legitimacy and Creating the Memory of Women in the Country Music Industry
Faith Hill

Women that have had long standing careers, come along once a generation.

There was typically room for only one "girl singer" on tours or television programs in the 1960s (though they were never the headliner or host) and record labels rarely released singles by two women at the same time. Country Aircheck publisher Lon Helton stated, "Since the 1960s program directors have been telling people not to play two women back-to-back. It has nothing to do with sexism. It has to do with the fact that through the years, you have had very few hits by women, so you want to spread them out a little bit because there are fewer of them". Taken from an interview in the 1990’s, Faith Hill shared the story of how she “had one radio guy tell me there were too many female performers coming his way, and that he was going to have to cut some from his hour playlist, I said, ‘How many females do you play an hour right now?’ And he said, ‘One’”. Part of the induction process into the CMHOF, places a third of the criteria on the performers personal and professional reputation. This moves the criteria into a subjective realm that is difficult to measure. Inductions that are based around the character of the musical performer are based on preferences and criteria that the Country Music Association view as most important. Women who remain in the approved boundaries are celebrated and rewarded by the recognition of their work. The CMHOF was established to help create and affirm a credible history for this genre of music. The subjective nature that goes into inducting musical performers allows the CMHOF, the Country Music Association and others, to craft a specific history. This specific history allows the country music industry to build a reputation that is deemed most important. This allows performers careers to not be accepted by the mainstream media and are not awarded by the award systems in place. Those that fit the narrative, which the country music industry has built, have strong, long-lasting careers. With the challenges regarding authenticity, a woman's personal life and radio airplay, the cards are stacked against women in the country music industry. Even with this information known, in the 2020 CMHOF inductees, 3 men were inducted, and women were again left behind. Understanding the history behind country music allows the audience to see the patterns and then demand change in the country music industry.
Ancestry UK
A Tomato Salad: Authenticity, Legitimacy and Creating the Memory of Women in the Country Music Industry

Marissa Stangl

Marissa wrote for Edition 2, Forgotten Women of History.
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