April 2024 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Karma Chameleon: The Ever-Changing Muse of “In the Pines”

In February Birthplace of Country Music announced In the Pines, a new music experience coming to Historic Downtown Bristol, TN-VA June 1. Dwight Yoakam, Elle King, Paul Cauthen, and Wyatt Flores are slated to perform at the inaugural event, but the inspiration for the concert goes much deeper than the artists who will take the stage that day.  It is a celebration of Bristol’s music legacy, bridging the traditions of the past with the innovation of the present.

In the Pines takes its name from a song recorded for the 1927 Bristol Sessions by the Tenneva Ramblers called “The Longest Train I Ever Saw.” From its origins of Southern Appalachia in the 1870s, “In the Pines” emerges as both a muse and a chameleon, seamlessly adapting its melody and lyrical essence to the unique styles and interpretations of every artist who dares to unravel its enigmatic allure. The song is believed to have been the combination of two songs, “In the Pines” and “The Longest Train;” the writer is unknown. It has been recorded under many titles over the years, with some artists adding their own lyrics.

“In the Pines” and all of its adaptations serve as a metaphor for Bristol’s creative music scene, which draws inspiration from the roots of Appalachia yet continuously evolves into new territory and genres. Below are a few interesting examples of the versatile tune that continues to shape-shift over time:

In 1923, King Oliver‘s Creole Jazz Band released a version for Okeh records entitled “Where Did You Stay Last Night” as a B-side for “Dipper Mouth Blues.” Louis Armstrong and his wife Lil Hardin Armstrong, both members of Oliver’s band before Armstrong left the group to pursue a solo career, are listed as composers of the track. This jazz instrumental stands out in sharp contrast to numerous other versions, showcasing a remarkable level of creativity and innovation that sets it apart as a distinctive and captivating interpretation of the timeless song.

The Tenneva Ramblers, an old-time string band based in Bristol, Tennessee, recorded “The Longest Train I Ever Saw” for producer Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company on the iconic 1927 Bristol Sessions. The Ramblers were briefly a backing band for Jimmie Rodgers under the moniker Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers, Rodgers and the group were supposed to audition for Peer together under that name. Instead, Rodgers auditioned as a solo act. There’s some controversy as to why the band split, but Rodgers’ solo performances for Peer would be his first recordings. The Tenneva Ramblers, sometimes performing as the Grant Brothers, remained active on various radio stations until the 1950s but never achieved the level of stardom enjoyed by Rodgers.

“Father of Bluegrass” Bill Monroe recorded “In the Pines” in 1941 and 1952 as an anthem of heartache and sorrow–a man “pining” for the girl who cast him aside. The crooning “who hoo hoo hoo” vocal harmonies mimicking the sound of a train whistle in that distinct “high lonesome sound,” combined with Monroe’s innovative bluegrass instrumentation, helped elevate the song to that of a country standard for decades to come.

In 1944 Huddie Ledbetter, a.k.a. Lead Belly, first recorded “(Black Girl) Where Did You Sleep Last Night” for release on the New York-based label Musicraft Records. Though he is responsible for the wider popularization of the song, he is often incorrectly cited as its author. Lead Belly’s interpretation was inspired by the 1917 transcription collected by Cecil Sharp and he went on to record several more versions of the track. It has been documented that when performing the song live Lead Belly adjusted the lyrics to “Black girl” for black audiences and “My girl” for white. His haunting depiction of a cheating lover and a grizzly decapitation is in stark contrast to Bill Monroe’s more G-rated tale of lost love, perhaps made darker by Lead Belly’s own past as a convicted murderer.

Joan Baez is an icon and activist who, during the folk music revival of the 1960s, marched for social justice and change during a time of segregation and political unrest in the United States. Baez’s rendition of “In the Pines” shares lyrical similarities with Lead Belly’s version, yet her voice and the contemporary context in which she sang it infused the song with a novel significance for the era. Baez’s iteration was a commentary on racism and violence against Black people from a woman’s perspective. The Black girl referred to in the song is fraught with anguish over the gruesome killing of her father and the disappearance of her lover as she mourns–or pines–her life away, leaving her cold and distant from an unjust world. Joan performed the song live during her concerts from 1961 to 1963, a volatile time in the civil rights movement, but it was not released until 1982. “In the Pines” appears on the album “Very Early Joan,” which contained 23 other previously unreleased live recordings.

Kurt Cobain‘s raw interpretation of “In the Pines” not only paid homage to Lead Belly, but also served as a poignant symbol of the grunge era’s cultural ethos. Prior to the performance Kurt erroneously credits Lead Belly as the writer of “In the Pines,” while declaring him the band’s favorite performer. By infusing the song with his own emotive intensity during Nirvana‘s iconic MTV Unplugged performance in 1993, Cobain brought this traditional folk tune to a new generation. It resonated deeply with Gen X in what is known as the “grunge” era,  which was defined by a sense of non-conformity and disillusionment of society norms. Tragically, Cobain’s performance of the song stands as a haunting reminder of his artistic legacy, forever tied to his untimely death at the age of 27 just a few months after the show aired.

Xavier Dphrepaulezz, a.k.a. Fantastic Negrito, recorded a searing version of  “In the Pines” for his Grammy Award-winning album The Last Days of Oakland, released in 2016. Growing up in Oakland, California, Xavier was one of 14 children. After leaving home at the age of 12, he went into the foster care system. He hustled the streets of L.A. to survive and lost a brother and a cousin to gun violence. “In the Pines” resonated deeply with Xavier. In his version of the song, he added the verse “Black girl, Black girl, your man is gone/ Now you travel the road alone / And you raised that child all by yourself / Then the policeman shot him down” to emphasize the trauma Black women face when their lives are impacted by such senseless acts. The haunting video below is the accompanying “docu-narrative” featuring one such mother whose son was tragically killed.

International Guitar Month Part 2: Jimmie Rodgers’ Oscar Schmidt Guitar

By Ed Hagen,  volunteer gallery assistant and guest blogger at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia celebrates Bristol’s rich musical heritage surrounding the 1927 Bristol Sessions, a series of recordings that launched the careers of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. With April being International Guitar Month”, this two part blog post will take a deep dive into the guitars of these famous musicians and stories surrounding these instruments. 

Jimmie Rodgers’ Oscar Schmidt Guitar

The three “Jimmie Rodgers guitars” at the BCMM: Martin 2-17, Oscar Schmidt, and Blue Yodel.

Jimmie Rodgers was the biggest solo star to emerge from the 1927 Bristol sessions. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is proud to exhibit the three “Jimmie Rodgers” guitars pictured above. The most famous guitar by far is the one on the right, the Blue Yodel” 1928 Martin 000-45 (read a previous blog post about this guitar here). The guitar on the left, a Martin 2-17 parlor guitar, was not owned by Rodgers but closely resembles the guitar Rodgers played at the Bristol sessions (the actual Bristol Sessions guitar is in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville). The one in the middle, an Oscar Schmidt model with fancy “tree of life” inlay on the fingerboard, is one of Rodgers’ guitars (it has his signature). It is no doubt the guitar with the best stories.

The original Oscar Schmidt company, founded in 1871, sold guitars at prices most people could afford. By the 1920s it was manufacturing 150 different instruments at five different manufacturing plants under its own and a number of other brand names (notably the Stella brand; Maybelle Carter played a Stella at the Bristol sessions). Rodgers’ Oscar Schmidt was a fancy one, likely purchased in 1928 after his career started to take off.

In February 1929 Jimmie Rodgers, headlining a tent show touring the South, played his hometown, Meridian, Mississippi. A 17-year-old Western Union messenger boy named Bill Bruner was in the audience. Bruner was a Jimmie Rodgers fanatic who bought all of Rodgers’ records when they came out. He would spend hours learning the songs note by note and copying Rodgers’ guitar and vocal style, and sometimes played them at a local café.

Rodgers suffered from the tuberculosis that would take his life just four short years later. There were good days and bad days, and this was one of the bad days. He collapsed in his dressing room and the owner of the show would have to tell an unhappy crowd that Rodgers was ill and could not perform.  

But here is where things get interesting. It turns out that a tent show clown had heard Bruner play at the café, knew that he was in the audience, and told the show owner that the kid was pretty good. Much to Bruner’s (and his date’s) astonishment, Bruner was escorted backstage and given cab fare to go home and retrieve his guitar.

So after the audience was told about Rodgers being too sick to play, the show owner told them that “we have another Meridian boy who is also a fine entertainer. He sings and plays in Jimmie’s style, and we think he deserves a chance to show what he can do.” The crowd was restive. Then he told the crowd that anybody who wanted to could have their money back if they were dissatisfied after hearing “Bill Bruner, the Yodeling Messenger Boy.” This settled things down a bit.

You can guess the rest. Bruner gave a sensational performance, was called back for six encores, and nobody asked for a refund. The following evening he was invited to Rodgers’ dressing room, where Rodgers gave him $10, decent money in those days. Bruner started to leave but was summoned back, and Rodgers gave Bruner the autographed Oscar Schmidt guitar. 

Bill Bruner with Jimmie Rodgers Oscar Schmidt guitar, ca 1953.

Bruner went on to have a minor vaudeville career and made a couple of records with his prized Jimmie Rodgers guitar. In 1953 Meridian put on a Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Day Gala. The concert featured performances by Country and Western stars Roy Acuff, the Carter Family, Lew Childre, Cowboy Copas, Jimmy Dickens, Jimmie Davis, Tommy Duncan, Lefty Frizzell, Bill Monroe, George Morgan, Moon Mullican, Minnie Pearl, Webb Pierce, Marty Robbins, Jimmie Skinner, Carl Smith, Hank Snow, and Charlie Walker. It was the final performance for the original Carter Family (A.P., Sara, and Maybelle). 

Bruner appeared as well, playing the Jimmie Rodgers guitar. Caught up in the excitement of the event, Bruner presented the guitar to another 17-year-old singer, Jimmie Rodgers Snow, the son of country western star Hank Snow, “because I felt like that was what Jimmie would have wanted me to do.” 

Jimmie Rodgers Snow went on to have a career as a country western star in the 1950s, palling around with folks like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, but gave it up in 1958 to study for the ministry. For many years he preached at the Evangel Temple in Nashville, often referred to as “The Church Of The Country Music Stars” (below is a short YouTube clip of Snow preaching about the connection between rock and roll and juvenile delinquency). 

During all of this, the Oscar Schmidt guitar was displayed in the Snow home, nailed to a wall. Years later it was taken down, leaving an outline of the guitar on the painted wall. 

The next time you stop by the Museum, take a close look through the sound hole at the back of the Oscar Schmidt. You will see a small shaft of light. The nail hole is still there!


This account was largely taken from Nolan Porterfield’s 1970s interview with Bill Bruner, recounted in Chapter 10 of Porterfield’s book, Jimmie Rodgers: The Life and Times of America’s Blue Yodeler.


International Guitar Month Part 1: Guitars of the Carter Family

By Ed Hagen,  volunteer gallery assistant and guest blogger at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia celebrates Bristol’s rich musical heritage surrounding the 1927 Bristol Sessions, a series of recordings that launched the careers of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. With April being International Guitar Month”, this two part blog post will take a deep dive into the guitars of these famous musicians and stories surrounding these instruments. 

The first Carter guitar

Maybelle Carter is remembered today as one of the most influential country guitar players of all time. Maybelle learned to play guitar on a Stella guitar. “Stella” is one of many brand names used by the Oscar Schmidt guitar company, a major manufacturer of budget guitars in the 1920s, often sold by catalog or door-to-door and were cheap and affordable instruments.  Maybelle’s brother had purchased the guitar when Maybelle was thirteen. She was still playing the Stella five years later when the then unknown Carter Family made their first records at the Bristol sessions. 

We don’t know much about that guitar. The pictures we have of it are quite grainy (we only know for sure that it was a Stella because Maybelle, in interviews years later, identified it as such).

Two photos of the original Carter family showing Maybelle’s Stella guitar.

Maybelle’s L-5

Shortly after the Bristol sessions, with record royalties coming in and show bookings picking up, Maybelle’s husband Eck bought her a customized 1928 Gibson L-5 guitar. Carter family reminisces and Internet sleuthing indicate that the guitar was ordered at Lamb Music, then a Gibson affiliate, in Kingsport, Tennessee.

From the 1929 Gibson Catalog
Maybelle and her 1928 Gibson L-5 are on the left side of this publicity still of The Carter Family from the collection of the Center for Popular Music, Middle Tennessee State University.

This was an extraordinary purchase for a rural Virginia family in the late 1920s. Introduced in 1923, the L-5 was the very top of the Gibson guitar line and cost $275 ($5,000 in 2023 dollars). 

Note the white strip between the crossbars of Maybelle’s tailpiece, something I have never seen on a Gibson archtop. I’ve exchanged emails with early Gibson guitar expert Paul Alcantara, who maintains the superb “Pre-War Gibson L-5 . He believes that it was a label or advertising insert from the music store. 

Maybell Carter’s truss rod cover

Another unusual feature of Maybelle Carter’s L-5 tells us that it was a custom order. The truss rod cover on the headstock has fancy inlay with Maybelle’s name, misspelled as “Mae Bell Carter.” I had assumed that this was something done later by a local craftsperson, but Paul Alcantara has the inside story on his Web site. It was likely crafted by William C. Schrier, who did similar etchings and engravings for Gibson from 1928 to 1931, working independently from the basement of his home. Examples of his work, including Maybelle’s truss rod cover, can be found here.

A 1928 Gibson L-5 in original condition would be quite valuable today. Working musicians back in the day would be more interested in a guitar’s playing condition than its originality, though, and would replace parts on the guitar from time to time. Maybelle certainly did this. By the 1960s (and perhaps earlier) we can see that the tailpiece had been replaced with a “triple parallelogram” tailpiece (Gibson used these with midrange guitars like the L-7 and ES-175 models), and the tuners had been replaced with Kluson tulip tuners.



More Carter guitars

The original Carter family – A.P., Sara, and Maybelle – broke up in the early 1940s. Maybelle’s three daughters, Helen, June, and Anita, had sung with the original Carters over the years. Maybelle loved show business, and took her daughters out on the road as “Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters,” where they had great success, eventually landing a spot on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.




Maybelle’s daughter Anita playing her mother’s  1928 L-5 in 1966, and a picture of the guitar now at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Note the replaced tailpiece and tuners. Source: https://www.tennessean.com/picture-gallery/entertainment/music/2016/06/21/nashville-then-mother-maybelle-highlights-park-concert-in-june-1966/86186754/

Here’s a picture of the group in 1944. Maybelle is playing a blonde Gretsch Synchromatic 400, the very top of the Gretsch guitar line. These were big guitars, 18″ wide, with “cats-eye” sound holes, stairstep bridges, harp tailpieces, gold-plated parts, and a chili-pepper inlay on the headstock.


Maybelle’s 1928 L-5 had a 16” lower bout and dot inlay. In 1934 the Gibson company “advanced” the L-5, giving it a 17” body and block inlays. This picture, taken in the late 1940s, shows Maybelle playing a post-1934 17” L-5.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland also has a Maybelle Carter guitar that they date to 1964; If that’s accurate, there were at least three L-5s acquired by the family over the years.

A 1966 photo of Maybelle on the 1928 L-5, Anita on the autoharp, and Helen on a 17” L-5. Source: https://www.tennessean.com/picture-gallery/entertainment/music/2016/06/21/nashville-then-mother-maybelle-highlights-park-concert-in-june-1966/86186754/ 





Part two of this blog will be posted next Tuesday, April 9th and is all about Jimmie Rodgers’ Oscar Schmidt Guitar. 


Would you like to read more about Maybelle Carter’s 1928 L5? See also:

Instrument Interview: Maybelle Carter’s Guitar – The Birthplace of Country Music

Lamb’s Music Store may have sold famous guitar | Local News | timesnews.net


Meet the women behind the Birthplace of Country Music

Last month was Women’s History Month, and instead of looking backward, we chose to look forward and celebrate some of the amazing women who are leading the way, making a difference, and making history at the Birthplace of Country Music. The Birthplace of Country Music’s staff is majority female. This is not so surprising when you consider that women make up about 60% of the overall museum field, but what is surprising is that all of our leadership positions are held by women!

Even though the world has come a long way toward diversifying hiring practices and more women are now able to get in the door, it can still be hard to find a seat at the table. In many industries today, leadership roles are still held by men. For example, in the festival and event industry, where women comprise 40% of the workforce, 80% of all management-level positions are held by men.

Last month, we interviewed some of the women in upper management roles at the Birthplace of Country Music and have been sharing those interviews on our social media channels throughout the month to celebrate these women. Now we have compiled all of those interviews into one convenient blog! Read on to learn more about Dr. René Rodgers, Head Curator; June Marshall, Museum Manager; Paula Hurt, Managing Director; Kathryn Long, Director of Administration; Baylor Hall, Director of Operations; Shauna Tilson, Director of Development; Leah Ross,  Executive Director of Advancement; and Sarah Alexander, Director of Marketing.


What is your role in BCM, and how did you get there?

René: I am the Head Curator for the museum. I grew up in Bristol and knew the general story of the Bristol Sessions, but hadn’t dug deeper into this history. I went away to college and then on to graduate school in archaeology and a life in England for several years. And because I was a Rotary Ambassadorial scholarship winner my first year in the UK, I shared the story of Bristol’s country music connections to other Rotary clubs and groups while I was there. I moved back to Bristol at the end of 2011, right as the museum content development was ramping up, and in mid-2012 I was invited to be part of the content team, using my background in history, writing, and editing. I became the Associate Curator in 2013, followed by the Curator of Exhibits & Publications, and then finally Head Curator in 2018!

June: I am the Museum Manager. I began my employment on Frontline at the museum as a part time employee. As time went on, I was moved to full time. When our Museum Manager was moved to Operations, I was offered the position as manager before they reached outside BCM to look for someone. I accepted the position and have been here in that capacity ever since. That was about four years ago.

Paula: I am the Managing Director of the Birthplace of Country Music. I grew up in many different places as my father was a 20-year Marine so moving was the norm in our household. I graduated from East Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Business Administration – I am a first-generation college graduate. I have worked in cash management at a local bank, purchasing for a Fortune 500 manufacturer as well as cash manager/accounts payable supervisor for a global glass manufacturer. I served as the Vice President of Finance and Administration for the Bristol Chamber of Commerce for many years – which developed my love of the Bristol Community and the tourism industry. During this time, I was able to watch the evolution of the Birthplace of Country Music from the receipt of the designation by Congress, through the merger with Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion and then the opening of the Museum! I also volunteered for BRRR for many years. When the phone call came in 2022, I jumped at the opportunity to be part of this wonderful organization.

Kathryn: I am the Director of Administration. Leading up to my employment with BCM, I worked in a primarily male-dominated world of forestry. I led the Human Resources and Finance Department for my previous employer and was challenged greatly in my role. I was oftentimes looked at as less than during business meetings due to being a woman in a male-dominated field. I assure you, as I grew up in that industry, I knew more than most of the men about equipment and repairs along with the costs associated with both. After years of being in the forestry industry, I looked to be more fulfilled in my work life and decided a change was needed. Keith Liskey and BCM took a chance on me and I am forever grateful for their confidence in my abilities to be a working part of the BCM family. 

Baylor: I am the Director of Operations for BCM. When I joined the BCM team in January 2018, I worked as the Museum Manager. With 

my background in merchandising, retail, and customer service, I was a good fit to manage our Museum Store and work with the many local artisans we feature through our store consignment program. While I didn’t have experience working in a museum setting, it became a part of the job that I loved very much. BCM also hosted so many events – from concerts and shows to weddings and company parties – and I loved being a part of those as the Museum Manager. My love for working those events was one of the factors that led to me moving positions and becoming the Operations and Events Manager. Stepping into that position meant taking more responsibility over all events within the organization, especially in regard to our annual music festival, Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion. Little did I know when I took that position in January 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic was right around the corner! The next two years, where I was navigating not only a new position but also a new world following the pandemic, was such a learning curve! My position within the organization continued to grow and adapt, and in January 2022, I became the Director of Operations.

Shauna: Since 2021, I’ve served as the Director of Development at BCM, where I lead initiatives in grants, individual giving, business contributions, sponsorships, planned giving, and our signature annual Super Raffle. My journey into professional fundraising unfolded naturally during my college years. It began when a former teacher faced a serious health challenge requiring extensive surgery. In response, a friend and I organized a fundraising event to support their medical expenses. This event’s success inspired us to continue hosting similar events for others in our community facing overwhelming medical costs. Graduating from college marked a pivotal moment when I transitioned my passion for fundraising into a fulfilling career path.

Leah: I started out as a volunteer in 2000 for Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion and was hired as the Executive Director in 2006. In 2022, I assumed the role of E.D. Of Advancement. In that role, I continue to be responsible for the festival. My role includes being a spokesperson, ambassador, advisor and fundraiser for the organization. I work with community groups, donors, government entities, the music industries and others. 

Sarah: I’m the Director of Marketing! I joined the team in 2022, where I lead all marketing efforts for all three of BCM’s branches. Prior to my role at BCM I worked in tourism in Galveston, TX and spent many years working in digital and social media marketing. While I enjoyed working in destination marketing, my heart has always been drawn to music. Growing up as a musician’s daughter, I watched my dad play bluegrass from many stages and listened to more Bill Monroe than I truly appreciated at the time. However, over the years, I began to treasure the very music I used to take for granted. In 2012, I interned at BCM as a college senior and knew one day I’d be back. I’m so glad that dream came true a couple of years ago!

Two images. Left image: June, a white woman with short grey hair wearing a black shirt and blue cardigan, is standing at a desk speaking with two people. Right image: Baylor, a blonde white woman wearing a white t-shirt, lanyard, and black baseball cap, has one arm around Leah, a white woman with short brown hair wearing a white t-shirt and lanyard.
Left image: June greets visitors at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Right Image: Baylor and Leah at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion festival. Both images are courtesy of the Birthplace of Country Music.

Have any women mentored or inspired you?

René: Yes, several! Two come to mind from my childhood: Anna Morgan and Barbara Bunn. Anna was my friend Annika’s mother and my mom’s best friend; she was also my 5th grade teacher. She wrote a novel in her youth, and today she is one of my best friends and someone I count on to have deeply meaningful conversations. Barbara was like a second mom to me, always encouraging curiosity and taking my whole family on adventures. She went back to school later in life, getting her Ph.D. in chemistry and starting Virginia Tech’s mobile chemistry lab. Both of them showed me the strength, creativity, and determination of women. When I lived in England, I worked for Professor Rosemary Cramp for a year. Rosemary was an archaeologist, responsible for excavating one of the most important early medieval sites in England. The time I spent with her was transformative — I learned so much about research, my place in the academic world, and how to get things done! My friend Susanna Baird also inspires me. She is one of the kindest people I know and one of the most talented, writing beautiful poetry and prose. And then there is my godmother Wanda Worsham, who has been the biggest cheerleader, supporter, and role model to me. She inspires me in so many ways on a daily basis — her favorite comic character is Wonder Woman for a reason! Finally, my mother Joyce mentored me through her constant love and support, even of things that scared her like my love of horseback riding and me living in a foreign country on my own for almost 20 years!

June: I don’t recall anyone mentoring me but I have had other women who definitely inspired me from the time I was a little girl. Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and Elizabeth Dole are a few of those women I looked to as having a strong influence in my life as a woman.

Paula: There have been many women who have inspired me over the years and displayed traits that have proven invaluable to me. As I try to choose one or two to list, I find myself thinking of the traits that I admire most in these women such as compassion, strength, drive, collaboration, intelligence, determination, kindness, and many others. I think of the strong core network my mother, grandmother, mother-in-law and aunts provided who raised strong families – instilling values, tenacity, respect and love. I think of teachers who taught not only academics but life lessons. I think of coworkers who have provided strength, support, teamwork, encouragement, and fun! Community and church leaders who have inspired a desire to make a difference, be a voice and step into volunteerism and community development.

Kathryn: I have been inspired by many women. Two being my mother and aunt. Both are strong, resilient women who have, by example. taught me that there is no challenge that is too large to concour. I have also been influenced by my fellow female coworkers at BCM. They tirelessly work to educate, drive, and excel in their departments all while juggling families and personal lives. I am humbled by the perseverance of my BCM family. 

Baylor: I feel that many women throughout my life have both mentored and inspired me – starting with my family. My mother was one of six daughters, and my dad had three sisters. Growing up, my Mom and my many aunts constantly supported me and helped show me what it meant to be a strong woman. I have also worked with, and for, many women throughout my career who have mentored me. From my very first job, where my boss took me under her wing and taught me so much more than was required, to female college professors, to women coworkers – I have really been lucky to feel the support of many, many women in my life.

Shauna: Absolutely! I’ve been fortunate to have been surrounded by many inspirational women in my life. Two remarkable individuals immediately come to mind. Firstly, my grandmother, India Gillespie, who is the namesake of my youngest daughter. She embodied intelligence, compassion, humor, and resilience, teaching me invaluable lessons about self-advocacy and standing up for what’s right. Secondly, Judy Franklin remains a cherished figure whom I always considered my guardian angel. Her unwavering kindness, boundless compassion, and generosity left an indelible mark on me, showcasing the profound impact one person can have on another’s life.

Leah: My sister, Sally, has always been an inspiration to me. She has always praised me when she thinks I’ve done good. However, she is quick to point out things that need more thought or could have been done better. She is always telling me she has my back.

Sarah: I’ve been inspired by so many women over the years, but the two that come to mind are my two grandmothers. My Nini, Kathleen. She taught me resiliency, compassion, and how to handle every situation with grace. My Nanny, Phyllis. She taught me to not take things so seriously and life is more fun when you take time to laugh.

Two images. Left image: Rene, a brunette white woman wearing a blue shirt, holds a large wall panel in a partially assembled exhibit gallery. Right image: Paula, a dark haired white woman wearing a black shirt and pink blazer, is speaking from a podium with the Birthplace of Country Music logo on the front.
Left image: Rene holing a wall panel while assembling the Women in Old-Time Music exhibit. Right Image: Paula speaking at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion line-up reveal press conference. Both images are courtesy of the Birthplace of Country Music.

What challenges have you had to overcome as a woman in your role?

René: I think all women face certain gender-based issues to some extent during their professional and personal lives, such as being talked over or dismissed in discussions, assumptions made about their interests or abilities, when asserting yourself is downplayed or criticized as “being emotional,” etc. We are often held to different or higher standards. I feel fortunate to have worked with many wonderful colleagues over the years at BCM where that is thankfully not the norm. I think the biggest challenge in my role as a woman has come from the juggling I do between work and home — while I am not a mother, I have helped with parental caregiving over the last several years (a role that more often falls on women), and this can make work-life balance even harder than it already is when work is the only thing on your plate.

June: I don’t really recall any real challenges as a woman in my current role. I will say that throughout my life, there have definitely been times when I was talked “down to” by men because I am a woman. My father was a very strong influence in my life and he always encouraged me to be independent in my thinking as a woman, especially. I will always be grateful to have had a father who guided me in the direction that gave me encouragement to make the right choices and speak up for myself, no matter what. 

Paula: Having worked in both the manufacturing and non-profit environments as a woman, there have been challenges. I have always searched for avenues to change perceptions, earn respect and make a difference in whatever environment I find myself a part. After all, it is the challenges that make you stronger.

Kathryn: Oftentimes a woman’s voice is stifled due to our soft spoken nature. Feeling heard and respected professionally can be a challenge at times. However, I look forward to a future where gender, race, and lifestyle choices are not judged nor are subject to preconceived notions.

Baylor: Thankfully, I feel the majority of the challenges that have come with my position have been more about understanding and executing the full scope of my work than it has been about the fact that I am a woman in this field. With that being said, I am not immune to the gender-based issues that many women face on a daily basis. Much of the work I do takes place in more male-dominated spaces, and so learning how to work within that environment can definitely be challenging. I have to give a shout out here to my Dad – I grew up working alongside him on our family farm, and never once do I remember him making me feel as if I couldn’t/shouldn’t be doing the work because I was a woman. I remember going to other farms, and people being surprised he brought his daughter, but he always just responded with “she’s the best cattle hand there is.” Make no mistake – I was not the best cattle hand there was! I know that now, but at the time I just felt proud and strong. I think having that type of support from a young age has helped me feel more confident throughout my career and definitely contributes to me not being as intimated when I’m in a situation where it’s recognized I’m a woman. Becoming a mother also presented additional challenges – trying to shift the balance to manage an already full workload and add in the new position as Mom has been extremely challenging, but rewarding! 

Shauna: Regardless of the role or workplace, navigating the challenges as a woman in the workforce is always significant and diverse. I’ve encountered numerous situations where I’ve sat at tables dominated by men, offering answers to questions or solutions to problems only to be talked over or disregarded entirely. However, I’ve learned not to let these obstacles hinder me. I make a point to assert myself—I answer the questions, provide solutions, reiterate if not acknowledged, and ensure my voice is heard even if I’m interrupted.

Leah: I have faced many challenges in my career, but I have always ignored or overcome them.

Sarah: I think women are often underestimated. This is something I use as motivation to exceed expectations, but I also think it highlights the importance of advocating for yourself and other women. 

Two images. The left image is Sarah, a blond white woman wearing a black tank top and yellow crossbody bag, taking a selfi with Charlene, a red haired white woman wearing sunglasses and a pink tie-dye shirt, while they drive a golf cart at a festival. Right image is of Kathryn, a blond white woman wearing a black and white striped shirt, sitting at her desk in her office.
Left image: Sarah (left) and Charlene (right) riding in a golf cart at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion. Right Image: Kathryn at work in her office. Both images are courtesy of the Birthplace of Country Music.

What is your favorite part of your job?

René: There are several things that I really love about my job. Firstly, I love the people I work with, and I am so proud of my team and all that they do each day. Secondly, it means a lot to me to be part of an organization that directly serves our community — from education and exhibits to the preservation of history. And on a personal level, I love being in a job where I get to learn all the time!

June: I love welcoming all our visitors! I have the privilege of meeting some of the most interesting people in the world. I also enjoy working with the wonderful artisans from our region.

Paula: My favorite part of working for BCM is that I am really working for the whole Bristol Community. Bringing new people to Bristol to discover the hidden treasure of our town. Imparting the proud heritage of the deep musical history to museum visitors and educating the next generation. Watching the crowds of people who come to Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion and LOVE our festival – and that I get to help organize and curate this event! Listening to Radio Bristol broadcast, educate and entertain a worldwide audience – that’s pretty special. But I have to say that I am blessed to work with a group of amazing people that are all driven by a passion and love for what they do and the organization they represent – that is priceless.

Kathryn: The most favorite part of my job is working with a team that is so passionate and forward thinking. Feeling support from your fellow co-workers is so inspirational. I feel very honored being a part of the Birthplace of Country Music!

Baylor: My favorite part of my job, and one of the most challenging aspects, is how it is constantly shifting. My days are never “status quo” types of days. I feel like I’m constantly getting presented with new puzzles to figure out. BCM has so many things going on all the time and I enjoy the “chaos” of working in an environment like that. It can be difficult to balance all of the moving parts, but it is never boring!

Shauna: Working at the Birthplace of Country Music offers numerous rewarding experiences. One of my favorite moments is strolling down State Street during Bristol Rhythm & Roots, witnessing thousands of people enjoying themselves, and realizing that the year-long effort was truly worthwhile. I also feel immense pride when I see elementary students learning about our region’s rich history at the Museum or witness Radio Bristol producing another successful Farm and Fun Time event. What I cherish most about my role here is knowing that my time and effort aren’t just about earning a paycheck; they’re about contributing to programs and creating experiences that significantly impact our community and region.

Leah: My favorite part of my job is working with people in the community. I have been fortunate to have been able to meet so many people in my years with BCM who have become lifetime friends and mentors to me. My wish is that I always treat people with respect.

Sarah: My favorite part of working at BCM is throwing live events. Bristol Rhythm & Roots is my favorite weekend of the year! Every morning, I drive to work down State Street and dream of the thousands of music fans crowding the streets. I take a lot of pride in knowing we’re responsible for carrying on such a sacred tradition.

If you had unlimited resources, what would your dream project be for BCM?

René: My dream project is actually one that I hope we will be able to accomplish one day — to have a Smithsonian SparkLab! as part of the museum. This would enable us to serve K-12 and families with STEAM-based activities, resources, and fun learning opportunities in really meaningful and engaging ways. Plus, it would just be super cool!

June: I would like to see the Museum become fully accessible to all physical and mental disabilities. For example, those who are blind or visually impaired and those without hearing or with hearing loss. And along with the physical disabilities, it would be so helpful to have chair lift transportation for when the elevator is out of order.

We could always use more storage space, especially for The Museum Store. We currently have a tiny closet that is very limited with its layout for storage of back stock and supplies for the store.

As much as I love our Performance Theater, it would be wonderful to have our own much larger theater also, to host bigger shows without having to utilize outside sources.

Paula: My dream for BCM is to be that organization with unlimited resources! If this staff and volunteers can produce what is produced with the limited resources that are available, what the future for the organization and the Bristol community would be with more robust resources would be amazing. Truly, my dream would be that the organization have an endowment program in place that would secure the future of the organization for perpetuity – to know that the Museum, Festival and Radio would continue and grow for many generations. Leaving the legacy of the past with the ability to build and expand toward the future is truly what makes BCM so special. 

Kathryn: A dream project for BCM would be the ability to provide travel exhibits to our regional school systems. Allowing the exhibits to come to schools rather than have the children travel would be amazing, as bus transportation has become so difficult for school systems.

Baylor: If I had unlimited resources, a dream project for me would be for BCM to travel! I would love to see BCM collaborate on and produce events all over the country. I love the idea of a “Brought to You by the Birthplace of Country Music” type of project that would reach different audiences and demographics and give us different platforms to share our story.

Shauna: I have numerous dreams for our organization, and it’s challenging to pick just one. One dream that’s coming to fruition is our event on June 1st featuring Dwight Yoakam, which I’m incredibly excited about. Another major dream project is the completion of the Museum Expansion, as I believe it will have a profound and positive impact on our community.

Leah: If I had unlimited resources (money), I would build an endowment for BCM so that we could have the staff we need to do all the things we dream about doing. For example, a robust education department, complete renovations of the Joe & Cindy Gregory Building for the expansion of the Museum, and increase the number of staff where needed, just to name a few. In closing, I would say that I have been blessed to be able to be with the organization for many years. It is an honor and a sense of pride for me because I love and believe in the work that we do each and every day every day. 

Sarah: If I had unlimited resources, my dream would be to grow our team!