Bristol, Va.-Tenn. (March 23, 2023) – GRAMMY nominated singer-songwriter Amythyst Kiah, along with members of the Reel World String Band and the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass Band, helped kicked off the grand opening of “I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music” during a private media event and reception for the new special exhibit, now on display through Dec. 31, 2023 at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
“Over the course of two years we interviewed a number of contemporary female musicians to get their perspective and insights into the state of old-time music,” said Dr. Rene Rodgers, museum head curator. “These are fascinating women, many who fought against societal and patriarchal mores just to play music. Their stories deserve to be heard.”
Kiah and members of Reel World String Band, each featured in the exhibit, were part of a panel discussion for media prior to the reception and are representative of the tradition and innovation within this timeless genre. Bev Futrell, guitarist with Reel World, spoke on some of the hurtles the group has faced in overcoming gender bias within old-time.
“It means everything to be recognized like this because it wasn’t easy when we started out to get recognized. We had an agent who wanted to bill us as the ‘All-Girl Reel World String Band’ and we were like, ‘No, we picked our name so you wouldn’t know what gender we were.’ We wanted to be recognized for our music, not just because there’s some women out there playing old-time music.”
Amythyst Kiah is a graduate of East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old-Time and Roots Music Studies program. Amythyst had the opportunity to reconnect with one of her ETSU instructors, Roy Andrade, and take in a performance by the ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band – of which Kiah is a former member.
“My discovery of traditional old-time and early country music played a pivotal role in my development as an artist, and I stand on the shoulders of groundbreaking women like Mother Maybelle Carter and Elizabeth Cotten,” said Kiah. “I’m especially grateful to see my friend Rhiannon Giddens included in the exhibit as she continues to reclaim the history of Black women through music. These are stories of inspiring women that need to be told.”
This exhibit has been funded in part by grants from Virginia Humanities, the
Massengill-DeFriece Foundation, and the IBMA Foundation, along with local women-led business sponsorship from Friends of Southwest Virginia, The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, Artemis Consulting Services, LLC, Bristol Ballet, Suzi Griffin (Studio 6), Kim Sproles (KS Promotions), and Kayla Stevenson (Matte Nail Bar). East Tennessee Foundation Arts Fund provided grant funding for related public programming, and the Virginia Tourism Corporation provided grant funding for the exhibit’s website. Special thanks is also due to the many women who shared their experiences and stories with us, and all who contributed to the exhibit through images, objects, research, advice, and more, especially the exhibit content team made up of Adam Alfrey, Scotty Almany, Erika Barker, Hank Collie, Toni Doman, Cathy Fink, Dr. René Rodgers, and Kalia Yeagle.