10 Times Women of the Opry Made History
These Opry members of past and present have been trailblazers for the women who have — and will — follow in their path.
The uncompromising and inimitable Patsy Cline went after what she wanted from her career — even turning the tables to ask if she could become a member of the Grand Ole Opry rather than waiting to be invited. Not only did Cline become the first female country artist to headline her own Las Vegas residency and perform at Carnegie Hall, but she also became the first woman inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
As one of the most successful female country artists of this century, Carrie Underwood has lifted other women up as she continues to climb. In 2018 with the release of her album Cry Pretty, she made history as the first woman to have four country albums reach the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart. In support of the album, Underwood handpicked Runaway June and Maddie & Tae as her openers. The all-female tour served as an important reminder of the talent women bring to the table.
The first full-fledged female country star made a splash on the scene with “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” a response song that was inspired by fellow artist Hank Thompson’s “Wild Side of Life.” Challenging double standards and wifely duties, the song was searing and controversial for its time. While it wasn’t originally allowed to be played on the Grand Ole Opry, it struck such a strong chord with women that it eventually made its way to the stage.
When Dolly Parton joined The Porter Wagoner Show as Porter Wagoner’s “girl singer,” she proved herself to be no second fiddle. It didn’t take long for Parton to forge her own independent career and become a household name around the world. She is the only country artist who can say that she has had a Top 20 hit on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart for six consecutive decades.
Evident in her songs like “Who Needs You” and “Don’t Touch Me,” Jeannie Seely has long been an outspoken artist, forging the path for other women to follow in her footsteps. She became the first woman to regularly host 30-minute segments on the Grand Ole Opry after advocating for fairer representation. When she was challenged once for wearing a miniskirt on stage, Seely told Opry manager Ott Devine, “Okay, this is what America is wearing and I’ll make you a deal. I won’t wear a miniskirt in the back door if you don’t let anybody wear one in the front door,” as she recounted in Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary.
A singular artist, Crystal Gayle forged her own unique musical identity to set herself apart from sister Loretta Lynn. In embracing a crossover sound, Gayle became the first female country artist whose album was certified platinum for selling a million copies. We Must Believe in Magic featured the smash single “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.”
Throughout the course of her career, Reba McEntire has distinguished herself as a dynamic performer, not just as a singer but also as an actress and producer. McEntire once said, “To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone,” and she continues to practice what she preaches. In 2018, she became the first woman to play the part of chicken tycoon Colonel Sanders in a commercial.
Kelsea Ballerini has emerged as one of country music’s most promising young lyricists, delivering real-life honesty through irresistible hooks in songs like “homecoming queen?” and “Miss Me More.” If the early years of her career are any indication — she is the only female artist in country music whose debut album had three No. 1 singles — Ballerini’s future is bright in the spotlight.
Growing up in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, Loretta Lynn learned a thing or two about persistence. When she launched her career as a country star, she worked hard for her keep, sleeping in her car the night before she made her Opry debut. Even though she already had 25 Top 10 singles to her name, it wasn’t until she had released her 18th album that she won Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards in 1972, becoming the first woman to do so.
Alison Krauss has seen success most artists could only dream of. Since getting her first record deal at age 14, Krauss has won an astounding 27 Grammy Awards, more than any other woman from any genre and only to be outdone by Quincy Jones and Georg Solti. But apart from all the accolades, Krauss has been an important stalwart in reminding the world that bluegrass is worth holding onto. She was inducted as a member of the Opry at 21 years old, the first bluegrass artist to join the cast in 29 years.
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